Patrick A. Howell shares his thoughts following the recent passing of his father, takes in the changes around him, and thinks about moving forward.
“Bye bye, Sacramento. It’s off to a better place.”
I am falling asleep, hands clasped on a copy of Herman Hesse’s timeless classic Siddhartha. As the plane takes off, I am thinking about my father, dozing and daydreaming of his inevitable ascension. And I know Daddy is with me. One of the passengers—a St. Patrick’s Day partygoer—shouts the aforenoted quote with as much glee from the back plane. It is so apropos, it is delightful. I am dozing. I am hearing and feeling and dreaming many things as the plane is lifting off. I’m wondering if when my father’s spirit was fully released from his body, if this is how the liftoff could have felt.
On the flight, one of the St. Patty partygoers offers me a ticket stub for a free drink and I take it, surprised. I order a rum and Coke from the freckled hostess who is Taiwanese but sounds and acts like a cowgirl with an accented twang. I take the drink—no doubt something he would not have approved of in his later health-conscious years, but used to enjoy on evenings when we sat on the porch growing up—and have another dream where we are discussing women, life, and the plans for our lives. For the next couple of days, I will have dreams of my father and of my son.
The capital of California is Sacramento. I’m not sure that is a commonly known fact—just like Albany is the capital of New York State. I bet you most of the seven billion people on earth think it is New York City. Just like most probably assume the capital of California is San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego or something. But it’s Sacramento, the town I was born and raised. It’s changed a little but not so much. Same vibe. It’s ordinary. I always like to call it a “how now cow town.” I forgot about all the evergreen trees that line the valley town. Or about the decency or power of simplicity.
Simple things. The sun is so bright and the sky is so blue. The sky is wide open.
“The race is not for the swiftest, but for he who has the endurance to endure, and endure to the end.”
They say everybody goes about grieving in their own way. My way is to remember but move forward … aggressively … with my visions, my dreams, and his work on me over a lifetime completed. Daddy was a strange, strange dude. Or, maybe the better way to state that is, “Daddy was distinct.”
“Grieving” is an interesting emotion. When I first found out, I was kind of blown away for a couple days and my son kept asking me if I was okay (he continues asking) and I told him I was really, really afraid. I spent some time researching “bereavement” and “mourning” and I came across one piece that said if you have not felt it before, mourning can feel like fear. Affirmed. In addition, I get some moments of extraordinary peacefulness, but also a lot of intense sadness and just pure shock … like, Wow … he was mortal. And from a boy’s perspective, I suppose it would be frightening if all of a sudden your protector, your idol, your friend was suddenly gone. Just gone.
Well, it’s Spring. And everything is changing just as it always is. Nothing is permanent. Everything is transitory. Pretty soon the trees will go from all-bark skeletons to all-green masters of oxygen whilst giving alms to the heavens, branches out, reaching to the skies. The painted lady butterflies would have completed their migratory journey for Oregon, and it will be a season just before Summer.
For the past two weeks, it has been raining throughout California where I live. Heavy rain. As a matter of fact, it has been getting colder steadily to low 50s. This winter, it not only rained biblical proportions throughout the regions but had days where it snowed in Los Angeles and hailed in San Diego. And I have been having dreams. Dreams about my father … and my son.
Now, there are bushels of yellow, orange, and rose flowers everywhere—a super bloom. In all of California’s valleys, mountains, along the beaches and in the wide-ranging national parks. California is renewing. From Sacramento to San Diego. Highway mountainsides are stamped with visitors crawling them and picking flowers. Folks are receptive to the painted lady butterflies playfulness, wonder, and fun. California is a global capital of renewal. The painted ladies tend to thrive in a super bloom because there are so many plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on and for caterpillars to eat.
Daddy’s passing is part of this movement of renewal. He is traveling. Seeds are dropped and blooming everywhere. It’s just a little bit magical.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there are no laws.” —Galatians 5:22 – 23
In the past month or so, there has been the view from atop College Boulevard in North San Diego this morning. I drive this route to drop my son off at school. It looks like Mt. Fuji, but it is the San Bernardino mountains in the Inland Empire, almost 100 miles away. I took my son there a couple weeks ago, stopping by his grandma’s house en route to Big Bear Mountain for his first experience with the snow. It was cold. From this perch atop the Calavera Hills, you are less than five miles from the ocean, and you will see snowcapped mountains with startling clarity. I know I will be sitting at the mountainside and beaches in the coming months, focusing on not only my breathing but the Spring Sun’s brightness and green bursting everywhere.
Spirit Force of the universe is always reminding us of his glory and our impermanence at the right moment. Life is the greatest gift.
Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha is about a soul’s search for and attainment of enlightenment. Daddy was a seeker all his life. And he was rigorous. Determined. Did not settle. He was a king philosopher and intellectual giant. Teacher and professor … a student of the universe. He was a master mentor and motivator. Well, he has now taken that research and that study to the next level.
“My real self wanders elsewhere, far away, wanders on and on invisibly and has nothing to do with my life.” —Siddhartha by Herman Hesse