He said, “Jackass.” That’s what he said. What he said is not nearly as funny as what she said. And yet it’s as meaningful in a very different sort of way.
(Do mind the fact, however, that there’s no binary, no absolutely opposite meaning difference between the clause “that’s what he said” and the clause “that’s what she said.” Do notice also how marked the feminine pronoun she makes the clause, while there’s nothing sexual or demeaning that it means when the unmarked pronoun he is used. Is that just the way language is? Or is that the way we are, using language, splitting it up to split up our world and the people around us in it?
One reason I’m sharing such a personal story is that what is said by anyone can still evoke laughter, and more than that it may be brought on by – and definitely does bring on – love.)
He said “Jackass” about himself. That is, that’s what my Dad called himself this weekend in front of my Mom and my wife and his sons, my eldest brother and me. He’d called us together to ask our advice about talking with his oncologist regarding a particular option for cancer treatment. He’d driven to my brother’s house, or rather he’d let our Mom drive since he isn’t supposed to drive these days, not supposed to drive due to the effects of the cancer treatments on his body now.
The significances here are with his mind, his language. He’s sharper than ever in terms of his intelligence and his vocabulary. He’s seeing and thinking and talking more cogently than ever. He’s facing death, but as he wins certain battles against the disease he’s facing life too, and renewed relationships in living, in new ways. “I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “I’m seeing things more clearly than ever so that I’m now afraid to live… if I don’t change.” He told the story of Mom driving and his struggling with not driving, not struggling so much with the fact that he wasn’t behind the wheel when they were driving over but that she wasn’t moving the vehicle in the directions in traffic the way she should. And, he said, he wasn’t happy with the drivers around her either.
(The dirty little secret of the word complementarian as he’d used that word to interpret the Bible as giving him his God-given position in his marriage as always the driver is that the “completion” he’d gotten from her as his “helpmate” meant that she never drove and was always silent about giving directions so that they got whereever they were going by his “headship” and “leadership.” She was the “body” in the marriage; and the “follower.” Before they’d driven to my brother’s house this past weekend, my Dad had even written publicly, a couple of days earlier, of my Mom as “God’s instrument and helpmate” for him.)
Why, he said to us further then, does any of that matter anymore? Why, he also asked, did it ever matter so much to him? Why had he for so long been such a jackass? He cried. Mom cried too, saying all she had wanted when she woke up that morning was to find a map, the map that would help them get from their house to my brother’s. That’s what she said. Then she burst into laughter at and in all the emotion of the moment there; and he was laughing with her; they were laughing together; and we all were enjoying their laughter by laughing, with them and all together. We’d shared a meal already, barbecue and salad and bread, and tears too had filled us, in full measure. He apologized to her, and to my brother for what he said had been his “selective love.” Love had been conditional towards some members of the family, he said.
I remember as a little kid hearing him say to me not to say “Jackass.” As an adult, I heard it. He said it. That’s what he said. His language is changing. And what he showed us this weekend is that sometimes if you just say jackass then you can’t so easily be one anymore. My Dad’s love isn’t selective love so much any more, and I say he’s more alive than ever. We all are with him.