Sitting on the roof terrace, in the back of the charity housing where he lives, we were surrounded by sunflowers, and my dad sat totally still, looking at my face. I was playing music for him off my laptop-- Coloring Book, Lemonade, ANTI-- so at first I didn't notice. But when I caught him staring, I smiled at him, and made a silly face, uncomfortable in the attention.
"What?" I said, laughing.
"Nothing, I just don't know how long I've got, so I'm looking at you. I want to make sure I remember."
One of his simple sentences. My dad has been threatening his death for as long as I can remember. But this was not that. It wasn't a threat. It wasn't to scare me, to guilt me, to punish me. It was just the honest truth. Two, three, maybe four strokes. At least a couple of them major. Only a few bottom teeth left. He barely walks on his own. Uses one hand to do most everything. It is hard for him, being alive. But he is happy, mostly, now. When we talk on the phone he tells me he is happy. Not angry like he's always been, not eager to blame me for the things that have gone wrong. And so he says his simple sentence, "I want to make sure I remember," and I just sit still, and I look at him too. The two of us, surrounded by sunflowers, basking in the heat of the afternoon. Listening to music together. Thinking about nothing much, except being there.
Let me remember this. Please let me remember this.
It is largely thanks to my dad that I believe in magic. Not bunnies out of hats magic, but the magic that happens when we believe in something. When we take the time to care about something. When we allow ourselves to be honest, or to be vulnerable, or to be open. It is that magic that gives him the space to be happy now, even though being alive is hard. It is that magic that reminds us to remember all the beautiful moments we might otherwise forget.
Try something. Let someone look at you. Not that gross guy in the produce aisle. But someone you trust, someone who cares about you. Let them look at you and remember you. Let someone see you for everything that you are. For all the weird, intense, stupid, pretty, ugly bullshit. Let someone just take you in and decide to love you anyway.
Not interested? Too stressful? I'm with you.
We have this idea that we can't be accepted. That just who we are isn't enough. That if we were better, funnier, sexier, smarter, thinner, fitter, braver, hotter--- that then we could be invincible. But as we are, we aren't much to write home about. So we bottle up and sell the parts of ourselves we think are worth something, and we keep the rest locked up where we're pretty sure nobody will see it. And we're pretty sure that if anyone knew about all that stuff, they'd run for the hills. They'd never want to see us again, they'd hate us and tell us what monsters we are.
Funny how I don't know you, but I think you know exactly what I mean.
So how about this. Try looking at someone you love. Look at them for everything that they are, for all the things they don't like about themselves, for all the things they show the world, and the pain they keep tucked away. Look at how cute they are when they're not trying. Notice the way you can relax when they're in a room. How they make you feel like everything is going to be okay. Think of all the times they've made you laugh, or surprised you, or taught you something without even realizing it. Remember how much you love them. Be grateful for the magic they bring to your life. Remember them.
Not so hard, right?
So what's to stop someone from feeling that way about you? Yes, that's right. It was a trap.
I am incredibly lucky because every single one of my friends is an incredible, amazing, badass. And yet, I have had conversations with most of them about this fear they have that something about them is wrong, or the worst, or untenable. This notion that beneath all of their incredible, amazing, badassness is some unspeakable dealbreaker.
The dealbreaker might be anything. Maybe that they don't like their body, that they don't feel accomplished, that they hate their job, that they haven't found their passion, that they have a weird family, that they're just unhappy, that they're not that funny, that they won't be interesting, that they're afraid of commitment, that they smell weird, that they feel dumb, that they don't read the Wall Street Journal... literally anything.
But hilariously, it's not the secret dealbreaker itself, but the fear that someone might find out about it, that keeps us from being seen. It's what keeps us from being accepted. It's what makes us shy away from our big dreams, makes us shrink away from the people who have the power to light us up. It's what sits inside us and screams, Do not look at me!
Fear is a powerful thing, but it's not the biggest. It's not more badass than you. It's not cooler than you, more fun than you, more fuckable than you. It's not more lovable than you. It's not more than a baby bird that got hold of an autotune machine. It is the sniveling idiot behind the curtain, and it can only stop you if you let it.
Sitting on that terrace with my dad, after all the years of pain we have put each other through, for no reason in particular, he took a moment to look at me. And he saw his daughter, who has screamed at him that she hates him, who has stopped calling and stopped answering the phone. Who didn't invite him to her graduations, didn't see him for father's day or Christmas. Who loves him more than she can say. Who thinks of him at least once everyday. Who is genuinely so proud of him. And I saw my dad, who drank himself to death and back, who always forgets my birthday. Who lived in a car outside my high school, who broke my heart. Who understands me when no one else does. Who always makes me laugh. Who is genuinely so proud of me. We sat, looking at exactly who we are, all broken and sad and full of joy. And in that moment, I believed in magic like I haven't in a very long time. Felt accepted and loved, no matter what. Felt the sun on my face. Felt happy.
Let me remember this. Please let me remember this.
I don't know how long I've got, so I'm looking at you. I want to make sure I remember.