Every morning I wake up early, get a cup of coffee, and sit alone, in the silence, contemplating whatever is on my mind at the time. When the weather is nice, I sit on our deck and listen to the birds. During the winter I sit in the dark kitchen. I enjoy this brief time I have to myself, with my thoughts (even though I generally don't like to be alone), purposefully leaving my electronic device somewhere else. The only interruption, usually, is our cat who meows because he like to hear himself talk a lot (I think). In the process of writing this blog entry, he has attempted to wake the entire house, despite my offers to call him, pet him, and hold him. But I digress.
Lately I have been remembering my godparents and in particular my godfather. Though we never spent time with them in a religious sense (except my godmother Helen who would send me religious cards and constantly praise God, and when my brother and I were confirmed and our godparents all journeyed to Denver to celebrate the occasion), they had a huge impact on my life, always there, always.
One set of godparents lived about 10 minutes from us and had kids about the age of the kids in my family, and we spent what I remember as every Thanksgiving and every Christmas with them. My mom's parents lived far away and I never knew my dad's parents (only that my granddad baptized me). So this gathering really felt like family and we had great times.
My godfather, one of the gentlest and kindest people I will ever know, was known to our family as the best cook... ever. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we anticipated what new appetizer he would make, enjoyed "his" special potatoes, his" sweet potatoes, and "his" fill-in-the-blank. At their house (which we preferred because they had a basement where the kids could retreat), I remember him always choosing the (classical) music, deciding on wine for the adults, and pouring the wine. He always seemed so calm in putting everything together right before we ate, at a time that can create total chaos. He was often the calm in the midst of chaos.
At the end of each meal, the kids had to plot to be "excused," so we could go to the basement to play a game, or watch a movie, or do whatever. It had to be just the right moment - if someone asked too early, then we would have to sit for longer and listen to the adults talk about something boring. So we would exchange eye-contact - who was going to ask, and when. Then we would politely (so as not to have to sit again) get up... and then Dart! To the basement!! These were the best of times. At the end of the night, it was my godfather who would come determine if the movie we were watching was done and if we were ready to go home, or he would make us aware that it was getting late. He was always calm, the voice of reason.
Outside of our twice-a-year traditional gatherings, he taught in my dad's department and my godmother taught in another department, while my mom taught at a different university. We were the kids of the university professors, and so I suppose we had the same sorts of schedules, meaning our parents tended to have the same breaks as we did. So we would see them at other times.
One year, when I was an adult just after graduating from college, their family found what seemed to be a kitten huddled in the back of their garage. They rescued the malnourished kitten and brought her back to health, to discover she was old enough to be pregnant. Right before I moved back to Colorado, her kittens were born and they gave one to me. He was a very special cat who died too young, but we had special times. They kept the kitten who was born with 3 legs, but who outlived all the other cats in that family. Like me, they were "cat people." We love our cats.
Etched in stone is the image of my godparents walking hand-in-hand down the bike path that was very near their house - the same bike path where I often rode my bike, ran, or walked. My mom and I would walk on that path almost every night during the summer when I was in high school and college. But that was the image of happiness - my godparents hand-in-hand, not in a hurry at all, walking along that path. They never saw me watching this - I didn't want to disturb what seemed special.
Near this Thanksgiving I had a moment of panic. I was making "his" sweet potatoes (we continue his" recipes! but where was the recipe?). Crisis! I called my brother who didn't have it but told me to give him a call. So I did and he told me I was lucky because most recipes now are with his daughter. Yes! The tradition could continue. We went to my brother's house with "his" sweet potatoes and my brother made "his" mashed potatoes. Our daughters sat through dinner and at some point made the move - "can we be excused?" And then they retreated... to my brother's basement. And the rest of us continued our adult conversation (which I imagine thegirls considered boring). And so the cycle continues.
A few days later my godfather was hospitalized. I went to see him. Although he never opened his eyes, I held his hand and sensed a connection. He knew someone was there - he probably didn't know it was me but it was someone he knew. As I was about to leave, not realizing there was a connection because he had taken his hand away from mine, he reached out and took my hand, in the gentle way that perhaps he could only do. And some time after that, I left and told him his daughter would be there the next day. And she was. Thanks be to God for that.
I often have regretted not seeing someone at a time when they needed to be seen, not sending a card when a card needed to be sent, and not being able to say "goodbye" to someone. But with my godfather, I got to talk with him days before he was hospitalized. I got to see him in the hospital, to hold his hand, knowing it was probably the last time, and to tell him that I loved him. Moments like these are where we find God. In the silence.