Two weeks ago, my family gathered in Phoenix to say goodbye to my father. He died in January, and there was a service at that time, but for various reasons I won’t go into here, it wasn’t really a family affair. So, we chose to do our own thing.
My brother, sister and I planned out the service. Our aim was to cram as much of my dad into a couple of hours as we could. We wanted to get our families involved too, particularly the grandkids.
It strikes me, as I begin to write this, how messy life is. My dad was a messy guy, so this thought is appropriately applied to him. I think – no, I KNOW – he liked dirt. When I was scouring photo albums for pictures of him prior to the service, I found one of him and me where he is wearing a white tee-shirt smudged with grime. He and I are squinting into the camera. I made it my home screen on my phone today. He was never happier than if he was doing something to get dirty: building fences, digging ditches, working on cars, making bio-diesel, packing dirt into tires, hauling, toiling, sweating, making.
But the mess went beyond the literal. A divorce, bankruptcy, family squabbles, poor business decisions, hasty relationships, trust given to the wrong people – much more. I remember him telling me once, when he was in his early sixties, that he still felt like he was a little kid, just getting started in life. It was, perhaps, a true feeling for him, expressed honestly. But I remember being amazed, because at the time he seemed cranky, crotchety, set in his ways to me. The quintessential old man was now telling me how young he felt? I felt compassion for him, but it was intermingled with pity. I felt he was disturbingly naïve.
Perhaps you’ve said goodbye to someone who, in life, was messy. Aren’t we all in some ways? Though I will confess that my aim is to be less messy than he was. I will tell you his greatest flaw, in my judgment. It’s a flaw that many happen to have and I try relentlessly to stamp it out whenever it crops up inside me: Playing the victim.
But what a tempting role it is to play! How many play it today, and how much is gained by it. Success, in our current society, is predicated on who plays the victim first and most effectively. We all play lip service to how terrible we find this state of affairs. How we try to stamp it out if we find it in ourselves or our children. “You are not a victim,” is a refrain my wife and I both engage in with our children. So far, I’m not sure we’ll ever cure them of it. If the culture rewards it, why should I change? – their sub-consciousnesses may be telling them.
Victimhood was his constant refrain. People were out to get him – and this only got worse as he got older. The results were…wait for it…messy. Feeling like he was a victim sapped his strength, left him searching for answers, made it so he could not grow from his mistakes. If you think you are the victim, you don’t stop and assess what you did to cause the situation and how you can change to be better. If it always the bank’s fault that your business has failed, how will you grow and do better the next time?
It strikes me that stamping out my victimhood (How did you screw up, Chad?) likely needs to be an internal monologue rather than needing to be expressed out loud. I could turn into a complete Eeyore if I were constantly talking about how it was my fault something went wrong. So, when I experience a failure the rule is to never blame someone else, but instead, be objective about what I did, how I impacted the situation, and what I learned from it.
That is what I need to be more conscious of, and a key lesson I can glean from my dad’s messy life. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s what I’m meditating on.