Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: My Parents

seated-on-a-wooden-bench-picture-id529574797 Mark Nepo's Weekly Reflection: My Parents

I was raised like our backyard,

only tended with a sigh

when I began to grow wild.

You ask if there were good times.

You’ve asked before. I’m sixty and

have spent most of my life dealing

with their absence, many years of un-

locking what I never had. So I know

how to face what went wrong. I even

know what made them so frightened

and angry, children of the Depression,

unsure if they wanted kids, saddled with

us. I’ve had to mourn them though they’re

alive, and accept what I’ve been given. I

know they’re not monsters, though they

could be monstrous. And when the coffee

stops perking, before the TV drones, when

each is stopped in mid-breath, like travelers

looking down between slats in a bridge that

spans a bottomless canyon, when nothing

can distract them—I know they miss me

and wonder what storms have kept us

apart. And when this moment they so

fear is sealed over, I know they mourn me.

So I keep their scattering of goodness under

a rock in the pool at the bottom of that canyon.

Because the thought of my father putting his

rough hands over mine to help me guide a

chisel and feeling his large heart warm my

back as he leaned over me, and the thought

of my mother looking at me with an open

face before she hardened her beauty, and

the few times we all laughed together—

these are slivers of kindness that will

turn me around and keep me from

the life I have, the one I’ve earned.

They will drown me in what can never

be. The only memory I take out, when

it’s hard to remember their faces, is

the time I entered his hospital room

after his first stroke, when he couldn’t

keep from crying in my arms and she,

she finally softened, and looked at me

as if I were the man she fell in love

with, rising like an apparition

from the old man in the bed.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a loved one or friend, discuss your experience of growing up, describing the greatest challenge and the greatest gift?

This excerpt is from a new book in progress, Compass Work: Finding Our Fathers While Finding Ourselves.

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