Wednesday, November 17, 2010

suspension of disbelief


It occurred to me yesterday as I worked on my father's memorial service, that I can not believe he is dead. I CAN NOT wrap my mind around it. It is positively unbelievable to me. He is in the other room. He is in LA and I'm up here. He's at his computer, grousing about Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement. He's watching a movie on Netflix with Mildred, his loving caregiver and sweetheart, pictured above. He's not dead, he's not gone, he's not a pile of ashes in a box in my sister's apartment.

He's not. He's NOT, I tell you.

What did Elizabeth Kubler-Ross call this? Denial?

As I put together a program for the service my siblings and I are hosting this coming Sunday, I have looked at many photos of the man who gave me the dimple in my chin and 1/2 my DNA. I read all the stories he wrote for his memoirs. I cried a bunch. And every time I looked into his eyes I felt his presence, not his absence.

It's been almost 3 months and it still feels impossible. How will I talk about him as if he's gone, if I can't wrap my head around that fact? I asked myself. 

And then a thought floated to the surface of my brain. The suspension of disbelief: the willingness on the part of the reader to overlook the implausible or fantastic in order to believe...The suspension of judgment in order to accept the unbelievable (or just swallow it).

I need to do that now. It feels like time. And yet.

I should be packing. I have been attending to so many little details, big details too. The program. The number of people attending. The flowers (deligated). The food and drink (deligated). The paper goods (deligated). The obituary (mine).

I had a brilliant idea the other night to have family and friends read from my dad's stories at the event. I will also be posting some of them here, so that you too, dear reader, can get a sense of my dad's sense of humor. It feels wonderful to laugh with him, to hear his voice (it is so, so clear to me). The melancholy part feels so out of place right now. But as I said in my last post, I am missing him so very much.

So, here's the first one, one of my favorites, The Chaplain:

The Chaplain

by Joel Stonefield

In mid 1955, I was transferred to the USS Gainard, a sleek World War II destroyer, loaded with torpedoes, depth charges, 5 inch (diameter) guns…and me, an eager 23 year old supply officer with a weird sense of humor 

My time aboard the Gainard consisted of an uneventful year at the Naval Base at Newport Rhode Island, BUT THEN….In the Spring of 1956, President Nasser of Egypt took over the Suez Canal from Great Britain.  Gainard was immediately dispatched to the Persian Gulf to look after America’s oil.

First, a very brief story from the peacetime Navy.

While in the States, our squadron was assigned one chaplain for the entire eight-ship group.  He acted as a sort of circuit preacher, moving for brief stays – of two to four weeks -- from one ship to another.  When our ship’s turn came, we welcomed the young fellow to our fold.  He turned out to be rather humorless and over-serious – not a great formula for popularity in the tight quarters of the Destroyer Navy.

Our visit with the Padre included a two-week training exercise – straight time at sea.  Each night at “taps” the chaplain would gravely announce over the ship’s loudspeaker system:

“THIS IS THE CHAPLAIN.  SHALL WE PRAY?”

The officers and crew were constantly grumbling about the Chaplain and his long-winded and boring nightly sermons.

Finally, the brief cruise ended.  What do sailors want as soon as they hit port?  Payday!!  That meant me.

Minutes before the payday was to start, I asked one of my watch-standing buddies to go to the bridge with me.  I asked him “How can I make an announcement to all hands?  After he showed me which lever to pull, I suggested that he “take off”.  Knowing I was up to no good, he did as I asked.

Next came the moment for which I had been waiting …….I pressed the lever and with my best official voice I solemnly intoned:

“THIS IS THE DISBURSING OFFICER.  SHALL WE PAY?”

1 comment:

midlifebatmitzvah said...

What a great story! I'll always remember it. Thanks for posting it.

It occurred to me that one factor in your inability to realize he is dead may be distance. In our modern era of parents living in one city and children in another distant one, we get used to not seeing them on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis.

You carried him with you in your mind when he was alive, and you are still carrying him with you in your mind. That has not changed.

Now the occasional visits and phone calls have dropped away. But you are still thinking about him. And in that respect, your instincts are right -- nothing has changed.

Might it be easier to come to terms with this if you were used to dropping in on his apartment every afternoon? And now could no longer do that?