As my father was brushing my teeth one night, I started thinking about what this very act does to him… or for him.
When my motorneuron disease weakened me to the point where I couldn’t brush my own teeth anymore, I found the ordeal of having someone else move a brush in and out of my mouth, well… an ordeal. And it hasn’t been a picnic for my dad, either. My mother seriously dislikes the job, as I know that I would, too. That’s okay, she does other things very well. Anyway, this empathetic kind of thing that requires concentration, patience, and precision is better suited for my dad’s skill set. But, I know that my father does not like, or should I say, particularly enjoy, this chore. It’s a chore.
On this particular night, the burden that is my daily care was weighing heavily upon me. It’s easy to feel a little guilty when you have to depend so much on other people. And I was thinking that my father would be better off if he didn’t have to do this chore, night after night with little variation and very rare respites, better off if he didn’t have to do it then, at that moment. Of course, he would rather that I be able to do it for myself – for my sake – but, because I can’t, he says that he is glad to do it for me. He says this about all of the many, many, many things that he does for me day in and day out.
Yes, of course he feels that way. He’s a good dad. He’s a good man. But – for his sake – I was thinking that someone else should be doing this, someone who hires herself out as a home health aide, for example, like the ones that take on some of my daily care for a few hours, four days a week. Trying to get more help has proven very difficult. But, if I was able to arrange some kind of full-time care from professionals, then my father would have a little more of what he deserves – a normal, ordinary way of living.
That night, however, as my dad was brushing my teeth, I began to wonder… (and it could’ve been my self-conscious trying to assuage my sense of guilt or it could’ve been a little inspiration of wisdom – or a combination of both.) Maybe there’s something in life that he’s gaining through this chore…?
Maybe an ordinary life, though, of course, seemingly much more ideal, would have meant that he would’ve missed out on something oddly good, something he might not have received otherwise. I know one thing for certain: our personal relationship with one another is very good. We love each other as father and daughter and, yes, as friends. Now, I don’t mean the kind of friends that go out for some beers and slap each other on the back as they tell dirty jokes. (Thank God we don’t have that kind of friendship!) We often confide in each other and we discuss, sometimes debate, a variety of things from the profound to the downright silly. Still, I know that my father is missing out on a lot of leisure relaxation and many fun activities because he is home taking care of me. The question I began to ponder is whether or not there is really some deeper and better good to be gained through an annual trip to Florida with my mother or a prompt 9 o’clock bedtime?
Maybe there’s a treasure deep within life that can’t be gotten to through ordinary living. I don’t mean that ordinary life doesn’t contain all that is rich and beautiful. After all, there is nothing more ordinary than brushing teeth. Some nights he is tired and grumpy, which is an ordinary thing for a human being to be, and some nights I am tired and grumpy, and, sometimes, we are tired and grumpy together. Most of the time, we are just heads down, getting through. If we just grit our teeth and bear the tediously mundane chore, however, then the only thing gained will be proper dental care. But, that night, as the toothbrush scraped my gums and cleaned my enamel, I looked up into my father’s face – really looked at him – and I felt such a feeling of love come over me that, if he had been looking at my eyes, I know that he would have experienced it, too. Just a simple moment of appreciation, of goodness, of tenderness… a glimpse into the eternal depths of real love. Even if he and I aren’t always aware of it, the holy goodness of loving sacrifice is there.
I heard a blind priest talk about his parents’ sacrifice in caring for him when he was a child. He said that they couldn’t take away his suffering, but they could suffer with him – and that’s what they willingly chose to do out of love for him. And isn’t that what God chose to do for us? This is touching the divine…
If I feel sorry for my father, guilty and burdensome, in the countless things that he does for me, then there is only the ordeal of the chores. If I’m humble and I don’t fight my life but, rather, accept the moments as one person willingly suffering for the love of another, then the wealth of joy can be discovered therein – the God-given joy that can only come through such willing and gracious sacrifice – through such a gift of love.
Anything, even disease and dependency, that enables a person to give that, to do that for another human being… well, maybe there is much greater value and infinite worth in it than we can even imagine.
(Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! Few would argue that you – outside of St. Joseph and, well, God – are the Best Dad Ever.)
© 2018 Christina Chase
I don't call myself a poet — but the beating of my heart is poetry. I don't call myself a theologian — but the light of my mind seeks the Divine. Who I am is a Child of God, a Divine Creation, a person devoted to being fully human, fully alive.