My father and my friends

I had just sat down to dinner when I learned that my father had died.

My father was 77, but he was healthy and filled with love for life and for his family. Shortness of breath turned very quickly into an inability to breathe and a trip to the hospital. One day in the hospital Dad showed improvement and was visited by most of the family. The next day found him in the ICU on a ventilator. He was weak but alert. He knew everyone was there with him. The third day and his heart, so full of love, had reached the end. As suddenly as he had taken ill, he was gone.

Appropriately, the restaurant I was having dinner in was a new restaurant, a very new restaurant. On the last day of my father’s life, I was at the first day of a great new place. As excellent as that meal was, though, it isn’t the point.

When my father took ill, Mama Squirrel and I hurried to visit him. As it became obvious that he wouldn’t be with us long at all, I found myself needing to take my mind off the inevitable. I actually tried to do my paying job, but I was far too distracted. I tried to blog, but I couldn’t focus on fun things even. I needed to get out. I needed friends. Fortunately we have new friends, good friends who didn’t mind us calling them up and asking if we could intrude on their dinner plans, friends who didn’t mind a polite, sociable dinner turning into a long evening that saw us visit (and eat at) three different places. It was at dinner with our friends that I received the dreaded phone call.

Mama and I have never been ones to have lots of friends. It is a very strange thing for Mama and I to have such a large social circle as we do now. My friends from times passed have drifted away, victims of my inertia, my inability to reach out and maintain those bonds or even to maintain perfunctory contact.

Although my father just died, truly I lost him years ago. I moved to Knoxville, and the quick drive to visit him disappeared. He remarried, twice, and his stepchildren formed his new family. I loved my father, but, trapped by inertia, I lost contact with him. Even when I returned to Memphis, when the quick drive returned, I didn’t see him. Fortunately, he reached out to me. A few phone calls, some catching up, and Dad came to visit us. We had a fantastic day, brunch at Hunt-Phelan, a drive around town to see the sights, and a nice long afternoon to chat and visit chickens.

It was my step-brother’s wife who let me know my father was hospitalized. She kept me informed of his condition and, more importantly, kept me from slipping back into my shell. At the funeral, her grief was as crushing to me as was the loss of my father. Still, from her broken heart I took comfort. Christians believe that they will be reunited with their loved ones in Heaven. I know that, though he was lost to me for so many years, my father lived in his own heaven. It was such a joy for me to see the love that he has lived with.

We met another new friend within the infinite confines of the blogosphere. This new friend has also become a member of our social circle. He and his lovely family have welcomed us to their home, which we appreciate more than they know. On his blog, his writing is eloquent and passionate. We respect that more than he knows.

Recently, he wrote about the isolation that has become all too commonplace in our lives:

The world has become increasingly isolated in nature over the last two decades with the advent of cable television, DVDs, the internet. In many cases, this has led to households who expend their working adults into the world for a ten hour workday only to welcome them back at the end of that day to quickly close the doors to the neighbors around them. It is very easy to slide into this habit, even if you are not co-dependent with the media outlets mentioned above. Throw in kids and the isolation from neighbors and community becomes even more intense — I mean, who has time to make friends when there are children to tend to, the house is continually falling apart and in need of repair, and a new episode of Lost comes on tonight?

This is precisely the trap of isolation that I fell into, that I fear I dragged Mama into. I became isolated from my family. I lost my ability to form and sustain truly close relationships. I very nearly lost any chance to reunite with my own father.

Our wise new friend goes on to talk about his idea of community:

Community is not just having someone with whom you can share a meal, although it is that. It’s not just about knowing the person who grows your beef or tomatoes, although it is that. It’s not necessarily your immediate neighbor, although it could be. At the end of the day it’s about recognizing that we are interconnected, in striking ways, with every living creature on this planet, and that by reaching out to those who we can most readily communicate with we can enhance our lives and make them more fulfilling, more genuine, and more fun.

I am so glad to have had my father in my life. I am so glad that he knew how much I loved him. I am so glad to have learned how loved he was.

And what does my future hold? Just as I have learned the perils of my isolation, I have learned that I am capable of reaching out. I have been reminded of just what it means to have friends. I have been surprised that my life can feel so complete yet so poised to grow even further. I have a feeling that my waistline is poised to grow even further as well. We’re joining our friends for dinner again tonight. I intend to have at least one bite of what is sure to be an excellent meal in honor of my father. And I don’t intend to ever isolate myself again.

Dear Mr. Neely
Whole Hog Hamboree in Oxford

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