Julia arrived at Joseph’s House when her father, Michael, came here to die. He had cancer and had come out of prison on compassionate release. Michael’s bitterness was so thick it formed an almost physical barrier to his room. But Julia, who had been in his company only once before, as a newborn, when her mother took her to visit him in prison – his daughter Julia wanted in. She was hoping for healing. After a lifetime of resentment at having been abandoned by her father, and having heard that he was out of prison and was dying, Julia took leave from her job to be with Michael at Joseph’s House. She believed she might find healing here. She slept on a cot beside his bed. She helped him to the commode. She brought movies that they watched together. They seemed to soak up each other’s company. After not enough days together, Michael died in his daughter’s arms.
Julia told us that they never did speak of the past. Her father didn’t tell her he was sorry. But he did accept her love and because of that, she said, she felt healed. They showed us that love is surely what we do – even more than what we feel. Not knowing what to expect, Julia took a step toward her father. One hour at a time Michael allowed himself to trust her, and love began to fill the space between them. A lifetime of resentment and bitterness was displaced by a spirit of ease. Peace, not as the world gives.
This really matters, doesn’t it? It matters that we learn to pay attention from the heart, with our whole self. It matters that we risk tenderness. There’s a beautiful poem by Galway Kinnell that speaks to the power of such lovingkindness:
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
In the last days of his life Julia re-taught her father his loveliness. And she herself, flowered, of self-blessing.