Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stepping into my father’s shoes…

Blanche took Keith and I aside shortly before I left Arizona to give us a couple of things he wanted us to have. Keith got my dad’s bible. They both share the same name so it’s the perfect gift to leave. Many years ago, bible’s held entire family histories within their bindings and, in a metaphoric sense, the same thing was happening here. All I wanted were some cds I’d given him. The one thing we shared was a sense of humor and it seemed fitting, somehow, that we should share the same jokes that he enjoyed while he was alive.

Blanche asked if there was anything else we’d like of his.

She asked if we wanted his shoes.

Now, at the time, that innocent offer felt pretty damned ghoulish. It felt like stripping shoes off his body, eminently disrespectful. Only this morning – only moments ago – did the irony catch up to me. It didn’t sneak up, either. It crashed into the back of my head with the velocity of a small truck.

Walking in my father’s shoes.

You saw that, didn’t you?

I was wondering how I could tell you about the developments on the new book. How can I, I wondered, describe this journey I am only beginning to take? The answer came: Step into your father’s shoes.

Of course. You see, I wanted to interview my dad. I wanted to hear his whole life’s story. But I was too late and he died and I barely got a few words out of him. And then, I went home to this idea for a new book, and idea about free will and if it really existed and my theories and how they amount to little more than behavioralism on steroids. I wondered what’s the good of free will, if it really did exist. Surely, it’s not to make us more money or to get us more fame. Indeed, it seems more and more that it’s not for us at all. If anything, free will is a support system for future generations.

And that brought me to Avalokiteśvara, the Buddhist ideal of the bodhisattva, the individual with such compassion for the world that he rejects nirvana if it means just one person remains unsaved. It might sound analogous to Jesus Christ but it’s more than that. Some Buddhists see Avalokiteśvara as really existing but I know idealized versions of anything are no more likely to exist than absolute evil – so I can blaspheme in any number of religious traditions and call Avalokiteśvara more a goal than a thing, a goal of what we can be, each of us. Bodhisattvas are people and, so, Avalokiteśvara can be the ideal of all peoples. (This is a primary difference between eastern and western thought. In the west, Christians try to live a Christ-like existence – some, at least – but not to be Christ. In the east, the goal of Buddhists is to become Buddha, to waken to your Buddha nature.)

Evolution. That’s what I’m talking about.

If Climbing Maya told how to be successful in your life, this book would tell how all of humanity can fulfill its potential. It’s the obvious next step.

Now, you might think I sound pretty smart but that’s only one part of the story. Because after I returned home, I started thinking about how I could portray my father in a book like this. He could have been an archeologist, I thought, and I could be the son who carries on his work! … um, no. My dad was no archeologist. He was just a guy. Okay… I imagined he could have been a university professor and I would be the son who found all of his notes! … no, no, no. The problem was, how could I start a story that led to Avalokiteśvara unless I had a father who sent me down that road?

I couldn’t. Because my father would never send me there. My father was no archaeologist, no college professor. He didn’t truck with eastern religion. He didn’t contemplate free will. My father’s last words to me were words of regret, about how much he wished he could have done for his children. And when he asked for forgiveness, I gave it gladly. That’s the man I wanted to write about because he is all men. He wanted more for his children; he felt he hadn’t done enough. That’s the man who would inspire…

And that’s when the truck slammed into the back of my head.

My dad didn’t leave me any archaeological ruins or teacher’s notes. He left me a legacy of regret, of how I wished I had done better. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The beauty of my theories on free will is that change is possible; it’s just slow. Free will is the gift of one generation to the next and we can be the people we hope to be; it just takes a while.

The key to this book is honesty, just as it was with Climbing Maya. This will be marketed as fiction but that doesn’t mean I have to lie.

I just have to remember my dad and stand in his shoes.

No comments: