My father taught me the secret of skipping.
He didn’t teach me how to skip, I knew that as soon as I was steady enough on two limbs not to cling to the edges of things. But he taught me the secret. You see there is a force that builds up when you are skipping, a force that centers in your belly. If you skip just right, it will lift you off the ground and you will begin to fly.
Sometimes when the sky was baby blue and the sunlight bright on trees dressed in green, he and I would talk and skip and laugh. As a child these moments were precious to me. Too soon it would be time to say goodbye, to fly back home, he or I, to the faceless connection of telephone lines.
It has been many years since I have skipped with my father. Growing up has its own set of differences. Gods and men and education-I can’t remember exactly what broke us apart. Only that the moments we used to share so easily, the moments of just us two, became always accompanied by a third. My sister became the filter. Subtly, at first, we are often together the three of us. I loved these times too. But somewhere along the way, my father stopped speaking to me directly. Stopped speaking only to me. It was always collective, always between the three.
Yesterday my father taught me the secret of love.
He returned my call late. I was pleasantly surprised. It was already past midnight, three time zones away. We spoke in the way we have been, cautiously closer, but respectfully, in the areas of our uncertainty. Because of the time of year, our conversation turned to spirituality. He was careful, but eager to speak, because he wanted to share with me something precious to him.
We were silent for awhile. Then he told me a story. He said that as he approached draft age, he went to a Quaker organization in order to become a conscientious objector. One of the things they told him to do was to get letters of support from leaders of his community. My dad was raised in a small community, in a catholic family on the outskirts of Chicago. He went to his family church to talk with the priest. He told the priest that he had thought a lot about the war, and he was acting out of a sincere belief that the violence happening in Vietnam was wrong. At the time, my father could have easily gone to Canada, where he had extended family. But he was young and idealistic; he would rather take the risk of jail for his beliefs than run away. He then made a kind of confession to the priest. He told him that he desired a connection with God on a personal level, to have the experience of God. He didn’t believe that it was possible, at least for him, within the Catholic Church.
The priest answered that on my dad’s first point, he had no problem writing the letter. On the second point, he told my dad to just go for it. To do what he needed to do. The Catholic church was my dad’s first connection to God, and now he had a priest’s blessing to leave and embark on his own spiritual journey.
My dad said to me, if a priest could tell me that, I would be remiss to tell you anything different. It is movement that is important, not what it is you are doing. As long as you aren’t stagnating, that is what is important.