As I continued trying to figure out where my life would take me next, my father’s terminal illness took over my life. I began flying back and forth to his home near Boston on a regular basis. Had I been working those heartbreaking months, I would have been rushed beyond belief. I would have been flying or driving in on a Friday night after the 11:00 news, spending a frantic and hurried Saturday and Sunday trying to be effective and then taking a late Sunday or early Monday flight back to my home in order to get back to work on time. As it stood, I could arrive and settle in to spend a couple of weeks, syncing up with the natural rhythms of their lives, being a steady, calm influence in an otherwise turbulent environment. Time itself was a gift my disability had given me, even though I didn’t realize it until much later.
My father’s home was on small island surrounded by a tidal marsh near the ocean. There was a causeway to the mainland just a few hundred feet away. At low tide, there were briny, pungent wetlands surrounding his house, sliced by a narrow river where he docked his boat. But at high tide, the marsh would disappear beneath the waters – and the entire island would be surrounded on all sides by the gleaming sea. Over the years, whenever family came to visit he would always tell us we had “just missed” the high tide. “What a shame! If only you were here an hour ago! It was magnificent, magnificent!” It became a running joke in the family. But now that I was more or less living there and sitting quietly for most of the day, I finally saw the tide’s full course. Being so far north, it had a remarkable swing as it would cycle through the marsh, including an incredible twelve foot spread during the full moon. It was otherworldly, as if the marsh itself was breathing, bringing in the waters and shedding them back out every twelve hours. He was right. It really was magnificent.
My father would lie in his recliner as his illness progressed, looking out the windows at the ever changing environment. He was at peace watching the shifting waters and would drift in and out like the tide itself. We had struggled with our relationship over the years; but here we were, finally close. Shortly before he died, we were sitting together quietly watching the tide roll in one afternoon when I was suddenly filled with overwhelming sorrow, knowing this might be the last time we would ever sit together this way. I told him how hard it was for me to know we had spent a lifetime getting to such a healthy place only to know he was going to be leaving. He smiled at me. “At least we got here, right?” That was when I finally knew that there were always gifts tucked somewhere in the darkness, waiting for us to discover them.