Dad and I spent much of our day together yesterday. We didn’t use a whole lot of words. We pretty much did two things. We watched the Dallas Cowboys beat the Houston Texans. Then we worked on repairing a piece of furniture he’d made for my wife as a gift. I say that was just two things but haven’t really begun to count everything as so many things are changing and have already changed.
The first thing, the professional football game, was significant. To me, it wasn’t so different from academics or from blogging. Not so different, I say, except we were not the men in the contest yesterday. We have been the men in the contest. Dad did, for example, come to my Ph.D. dissertation defense, did take up the offer for the public there to ask questions, did ask a question that began with “Kurk, I have a problem…,” did express his difference with my research, did require me to counter by clarifying and confirming that difference with some precision. And, although Dad has never blogged, I have been over to Better Bibles Blog where yesterday David Ker decides to post one: “Say what you mean without being mean“; David quite clearly says no “one is going to convert the other” or be “won over to the other side” although he confesses having continued a “long-standing ‘feud'” with another blogger and admits to the world that “he’s converted me [that is, David’s opponent has converted him] on quite a number of occasions.” Of course, I’m remembering Nancy Mairs remembering what Walter Ong said: “The binary mode of structuring the world is agonistic.” So it’s not just the Dallas Cowboys versus the Houston Texans but it’s also the Greek men in ceremonial combat and the Roman men and their gladiator like “ludus.” It’s how men tend to use words. And so, once upon a time, I’d started my dissertation, and my defense of it, this way, with these words of contrast, of contest. And through the years, Dad and I have had our battles, have had words. Once when he was a missionary with a “foreign mission board,” I was a closet atheist who came out. (I was not then at all interested in conversion of children or of adults, unless it was in a particular direction, my own.)
So that brings me to the second thing. We spent time in his shop together repairing. There’s new significance.
So what’s changed here? What is new? Well, the very sharp, exact, and precise diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer now systemic and metastasized to Dad’s brain in the form of distinct tumors pretty much changes a whole lot. With much humility, I am watching my Dad change and gain a whole new humility. Are you watching me change? Aren’t you? Won’t you?
While in the shop repairing the piece of furniture he’d built, Dad told me how proud he was of me, and he started enumerating the “gifts God has given” me. He exclaimed how wonderful Mom is, how unique, how beautiful. The agonistic language is now reserved for other things, properly for things, not so much for people. It’s not that we haven’t many times over already agreed on so many things and have expressed our love using oh-so-inadequate words. It’s that the battles being waged now are, properly, against things, not so much against people or their ideas or their beliefs.
And that, to me, is just remarkable. Dad is a gifted man, yes a preacher. And very much, yes, a handy man, a carpenter. He was in his shop for the first time since his cancer diagnosis. In fact, the very first time he heard he had cancer, he asked the specialist, the oncologist, whether it was all of the saw dust breathed in that had caused the tumors in his lungs. “I don’t know,” the doctor admitted; “we don’t have research that exactly proves that sawdust causes Adenocarcinoma.” Now after weeks of precise radiation and as-good-as it gets chemical therapy, Dad has been too weak to even want to get back to his shop. And I confess I took the piece of broken furniture to him yesterday just to see whether he would. I watched, marveled at his strength of mind, the skill of his hands, the incredible skill of his now-shaky hands. He yesterday taught me several “tricks of the trade” as I watched and handed him tools, tools all in their places, exactly where he said they’d be. We joked that he was as adept as the best of surgeons, and that I was like an intern, like an o.r. nurse. He began to name, with care, the individual health care professionals who are overseeing his treatment and his battle against the disease.
In blogging this morning, I’m only wanting to reflect for myself on the ways I tend to use language with precision. Of course, if my words are for battle, for a contest, to cut, to sever, to wrestle down, as in the Greek agon, I’m more interested in them now being used to remove awful things and not to injure people. This is a conversion.
I’ve used a lot of words in this blogpost already. I think I’ve already said how Dad and I used few yesterday together. So let me just end with this. It’s some words my Dad posted on his Caringbridge site to report on his battle against cancer. (He doesn’t say it there but I’ll tell you this here: when he mentions ‘the young preacher’ he’d listened to in SF some 15 years ago, he was there in that church to ask for healing from God, healing for his little granddaughter [my daughter] who had cancer, who was in SF for a very specific surgery. I’m happy to report that God heard his prayers!)
My Dad, a preacher himself, is listening, after a decade and a half is remembering now and is listening. I confess I remember going to hear the young preacher but had completely forgotten the message. Notice now my own conversion, how he’s got my awareness in new and numerous ways. Here’s how Dad’s post begins:
Fifteen years ago I attended a church in San Francisco and the title of the morning message was “What on earth are you doing…for heaven’s sake?”The young preacher was from West Texas and he explained that when his mother missed him, she would call out for him with this question. It was what his mother asked when she suspected him of being into something he shouldn’t be in.
This question seems a valid one for me to ask as I ponder my days on earth. It is a question that has to do with purpose in living. Moving through the process of cancer treatment, I realize there is no guarantee that I’ll have one more day. So I am asking myself, “What am I doing for heaven’s sake?”
Several times I have told friends and family that I don’t fear dying; I fear living. If God heals the cancer and extends my life, He has given me life “for heaven’s sake.” I won’t look at it from the standpoint of a new career or position or place of service. I will look at it from the standpoint of being aware that each day God will give me opportunities to do something for “heaven’s sake.”