On an August day in 1988, my wife (who was eight months pregnant with our second child) and son left Dearborn, Michigan after a few days visiting with her brother, who at the time was an intern at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. On the way home the three-and-a-half of us stopped at the Toledo Zoo, which at the time was having a rare exhibit of Pandas from China.
It was a wonderful day. The visit had been good and the Zoo visit was excellent. As we drove home I thought about what a perfect day it had been.
As we walked in the door the phone was ringing. It was the phone call that I knew would be coming. I just hadn’t expected it today.
My father had passed away.
The feeling was odd. First, Dad’s death was tempered by my religious faith. Second, based on that event alone, it should have been a terrible day. But until I picked up the telephone, it wasn’t. It had been a perfect day.
I haven’t forgotten that odd combination of feelings. I wanted to write something that combined this range of emotions, but haven’t yet found the right vehicle for it. Instead, I kept watching, observing. In doing so, it led me to a fascinating discovery:
There is no such thing as a perfect day.
That is, there will always be something to take the wind out of it’s sails. The closer to perfection you get, the bigger the imperfection. But take comfort, for this rule has a corollary:
There is no such thing as a perfectly bad day, either.
No matter how bad the day is, there will always be one thing that will buffer it and keep it from being a complete failure.
Fast-forward to recent history. It turned out that my recent allergy attack/flu symptom/broken toe experience was the end of the tunnel for a recent nadir I’d experienced. For weeks I’d been chronically tired and out-of-sorts about everything. I was a walking one-man pity party, but I kept it bottled up because I didn’t want to bore anyone with my own personal angst; the kind of I wish I’d been the kind of guy who would have been perfectly happy as a plumber, never having the ambition to wildly succeed at something or the talent to do it, only to have it dangle just out of my grasp… stuff that populates blogs whose titles usually begin with the words “The So-Called Life of…”
It turned out that all the sleep I got on Tuesday and Wednesday was wonderfully therapeutic. I woke up this morning with no problem. I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed. And on the way to work, I thought, “Wow! I feel great! In fact, I haven’t felt this good in a weeks.”
I should have known (c.f. John Wayne’s last line in The Sands of Iwo Jima; “I feel great. In fact, I never felt better in my life”; at which point he is killed by a Japanese sniper) that I was headed for a Perfect Day.
I didn’t even get depressed at work. I made a well-timed reference to the movie The Jerk that made our bookkeeper stop what she was doing because she was laughing so hard. I spoke with many people, including a few who usually manage to destroy any little sprig of hope that I carry to the office with me every day. then I came home to face a minor financial problem and got everything straightened out (it was their fault for a change). Everything was spinning in a greased groove.
And then, and then…
At 7:50 the phone rang. My wife’s grandmother – the one who was more of a grandmother to me than the two I had – passed away an hour before. They had transferred her to a nursing home to finish recovering from the myriad of ills that was recently compounded by her broken hip of two weeks ago. She didn’t want to be in a nursing home. She told our minister, “I’m going to die today, but I have to wait until my family is here.” And that’s exactly what happened.
She died peacefully, with a prayer on her lips. And there’s no doubt in my mind that she ran the race and won, and is out of her pain now, celebrating with the husband and two sons who left much too early. It’s hard to be sad about things like that, but it still hurts when they have to leave.
We returned later in the evening after going up to the nursing home to help my wife’s family make initial arrangements. I checked the call waiting box to see if our daughter called from the church event she had gone to. One of the numbers on the box was an aunt in Arizona that I hadn’t heard from in quite a while. We’d exchanged e-mail, but it had been ages since getting a phone calls.
And again, I knew what this call was.
The aunt for whom I am named (Jo > Joe) passed away yesterday.
Again, I am assured that I will see her again because of her faith, but… well, you get the idea by now.
I guess I didn’t know how good of a day I was actually having. And if there are any bad days ahead – ones worse than Tuesday/Wednesday, anyway – well, I know they won’t be all that bad.
But I’m sure you’ll understand if I take a break from the Foundry for a few days. The weekend and the days that follow will no doubt be busy, and I don’t want to clog up any more bandwidth with discussions of what kept me from writing on this or that particular day. So I’ll see you all in, say, a week.
And I wish you all a not-quite-perfect day.
NP – Joseph Arthur, Redemption’s Son