I spent my early years in the Episcopal Church and, as in any other social gathering of hominids, it had its issues. But there were a lot of downright good people in that church; warm hearted folks of whom I have many fond memories. One of them was my mother.
Mom told me a few years ago that once upon a time, some scintillating intellect thought it would be really neat to expose the children's Sunday school to a little Old Testament heritage. This genius brought an antique miniature Torah scroll (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) to show-and-tell. And somehow this Rhodes Scholar thought it would be just brilliant to place this cherished artifact into the grubby little hands of antsy six-year-olds, to be passed around.
I must have been impressed because Mom said that when it got to me I held it up by its spindles — a fragile span of tan parchment stretched between — and said "Look Mommy!" It tore in half. At six tender years of age, I had torn a Torah Scroll in half! Little did I comprehend the prophetic implications. What was an Episcopalian even doing with a Torah scroll anyway?
I escaped the Episcopate seven years later. I used to fault that church with a lot — yet it gave Mom a community where she could practice her faith. And I used to fault Mom with a lot, too — yet out of her simple faith she taught me the one thing for which I will always be thankful.
Late on her last night on earth, as she grappled with the most tormenting, agonizing pain she had ever experienced — at least since the night I was born — I thanked her for that one thing.
I looked into her anguished face and said "You know what the most important thing you ever taught me was?"
She bit her lip and shook her head. "You taught me how to pray... And how to really cheat at Uno!"
And that made her laugh.
Mom also taught me something else. How to take time. She took the time to make sure that as children we were exposed to good literature, good music, the arts, culture, religion, and travel. Mom took the time to teach us how to help and encourage others, to be our brother’s keeper; and as I mentioned, she took time to teach us how to pray. She took time to encourage us, and to nurture our creativity, she took time to stay in touch and keep up on our endeavors and those of our friends. She always took time to listen. She took the time to write letters and thank you notes. She took time to make needlepoint mementos for her neighbors. She was always thinking about what she might get or make for her kids, and her grandchildren. Mom had a deeply caring spirit.
In my last blog I talked about the nagging guiltiness I felt over writing a novel versus other pursuits — and how, in the end, those feelings turned to ones of validation. Yet there was one more phantom that haunted me. I often felt that I was not spending enough time with my kids — that they were just sort of being swept along in my wake. I worried if, as a father, I was setting a positive example for them. Working a full time job stripped enough of my time from them but then to add writing a novel to that? I told myself that I was writing Uncle Arctica in a bid to a secure better future for them. That was and is true. But that didn’t make me feel any better about this whiling away of my time.
Then something wonderful happened. My twelve-year-old daughter (who didn’t even start to talk until she was four,) suddenly took to writing! She began to fill notebooks with fanciful stories. She even produced a 5,000 word epic on the computer! Now, when she isn’t transcribing her work into the word processor her little brother is on the computer writing his own tales. The other night I was watching a documentary for research on The Storms of Tarshish. She came in and said “Pa, you ought to be taking notes!” And when I asked my oldest son to read this blog, he perused it then barked “Clean it up!” in a stern tone, and stalked out of the room.
The paperback proof copy of Uncle Arctica arrived in the mail yesterday. My daughter was in awe (I was pretty impressed, too!) Then I realized that my kids had been watching their dad diligently invest his time in a long, arduous project, which he brought to completion — and that they had started to emulate his behavior. It doesn’t matter to them if I am not a six-figure executive. They’re able to hold a book in their hands that has their father’s name on it. They can see it for sale online. They can check it out from the library. And they can ask their friends “So, what does your dad do with his time?”