Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Here it is January 14, a big day on my calendar every year, for it's the date on which, forty years ago, my father died.  I was eighteen and in first year university; he was forty-eight, had been on the beaches in Normandy, in the Canadian forces in Holland at the end of the war, at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar after the war, studying physics, and then a fabulously present and intelligent, engaged father to me and my brother, and I think a loving reliable partner for my mother, though they couldn't have been more different in many ways.  

Nothing prepared me for his death, not could anything have done so.  That first big loss, and after all I was eighteen and not a small child, so I was lucky, took years to absorb, perhaps will never be quite absorbed.  But it also had a huge impact on how I look at the world.  I came to realise that life is short, can be cut off at any time, and that human relationships, our web of friends and family and acquaintances, are what keep us all afloat, remind us that we are part of a larger whole.

Some people look to religion for this connection.  For me religion has always been a version of words, sometimes loaded, yes, with meaning and metaphor and remembrance, but actually just a form of institutionalised control and restriction.  No there is no life after death, I believe.  And no, my father is not looking down on me from some heaven and pitying me or loving me or whatever.  Those can be nice images, consoling perhaps, but also they are creepy.

We have the now, and our relationships and our minds and imaginations and creative energies.  That is the heaven we have on earth.  Let's agree that we are not so separate from the animal kingdom.  The difference is in our awareness of and our ability to conceptualise and verbalise about both the future and the past, while also living in the present.  How rich is that?!  And another difference, I believe, is our capacity for kindness, our ability to will ourselves to behave better toward each other than pure animal instincts would dictate. 

So if life is fragile and to be savored, and thus individual people and relationships are also evanescent, potentially, and need to be appreciated, why am I planning to catch a plane tomorrow leaving friends and extended family and my nearest and dearest Dom and Tashi to go to the other side of the world?

Well life is also about stretching ourselves, keeping commitments while pushing ourselves to extend outward, to keep learning and appreciating what's out there.  And for now, that sends me to southeast Asia, first to Chiang Mai for our immersethrough course, which will be fun and challenging and a very new adventure, and then to Burma for I hope a good explore to the west and north of the country.    

Yes, I'm sure things can and will go wrong or off track.  But that's not always a bad thing.  And the serendipity that I rely on when travelling, which is really another way of saying that I enjoy the unexpected, is something to look forward to.

First there's the flight to HongKong, where I'll have a few hours to go into town and see Rocky, at Phoenix Travel, such a wonderful person and old friend, and hopefully Peter too.  Then it's back onto a plane for the legs to Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  I'm packed, with computer and camera, and books for the flight.  

And yes, part of me is weeping a little, for the loss and change of today long ago, and for the losses and changes to come, even as I look forward....


Tashi said...

"Very good blog nom"
"thanks precious guy"
*Thinks to self - I hope nom has a safe trip*
*Nom thinks to self - I hope the kids don't worry about me...*

Poor Man's Feast said...

Travel safely. I lost my father very, very suddenly 7 years ago this August. He was my best friend, and I still don;t know what to make of it. Tough time.
Anyway, your multitudinous fans look forward to your return, and hearing about Burma.
Elissa Altman

cassandra said...

Nice remembrance of your dad, Nom. Your approach to adventure and life is inspiring, as always. Happy travels to Chiang Mai & beyond.