change, childhood, choices, death, family, future, sadness, time

Leap: Lessons from a Road Long Traveled – Remembering My Dad 20 Years Later

My road of choice. From Pinterest.
My road of choice. From Pinterest.

Yesterday, marked the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing. I’ve been alive longer without him than with him. To even fathom that 20 years has passed makes my mind numb. I remember that evening so clearly that I could recite my actions and thoughts of each minute. I think of it in frames of a film, a shutter action happening in between each. There’s some soaring music in the background that rises and falls in waves like water.

That night I was viscerally aware that I was literally closing one chapter of my life and opening another one with my bare hands. The door between those chapters was heavy and awkward. I knew that once it shut behind me that there was no going back. That feeling is lodged in my heart in a way that used to feel painful and now is just familiar. It’s become one of my oldest friends.

Nothing happens in isolation. As soon as my mind turns those events over a few times, it just keeps going and I follow it along as an audience member, as if I am watching a performance of Sleep No More. At first it slowly trudges to the wake and funeral, to high school graduation, to leaving my hometown, to college and everything that would unravel and then coalesce in that time.

The speed of the frames in my mind picks up rapidly after that. As a young 20-something I thought I would go into politics and instead opted for a career in theatre, moving from D.C. to New York to life on the road. That would lead me to Florida, back to D.C., on to graduate school in Virginia, and then back to New York where I’ve made my home for the past 5 and a half years. That journey flashes with so many characters and scenes and travels across the globe, some happy, some sad and everything in between. It makes me dizzy if I think about it for too long.

I used to feel so much a part of that narrative. No matter how much distance I got from December 1, 1992, I was still that character, playing that role. I was this way because my dad was that way. I played the victim card, the martyr card, the lost card, the hopeless card, the trapped card. I let the role write the script instead of writing it myself.

It took a long time for me to understand how that’s a clear and certain road to disaster. No one wins in that scenario, least of all me. And it took me even more time to realize that it didn’t have to be that way. The beginning of a journey influences its course but it doesn’t define it. It is within our power, responsibility, and right to own the narrative of our lives.

We can fold, toss those old worn out cards into the center of the table, and walk away. It’s okay to leave it behind and continue on in a different direction. It’s healthy to do so. It’s required if we intend to do anything extraordinary with our lives. We can honor our past, our roots, and not feel shackled to them. What happened, happened. There’s no changing it. What happens next? Well, that’s up to us. It’s always up to us.

Wherever my dad is now, I hope he folded his hand, too, walked away from the table, and set out on a new course that was brighter than the one that was here among us. Every soul deserves that chance.

2 thoughts on “Leap: Lessons from a Road Long Traveled – Remembering My Dad 20 Years Later”

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