My Father, Our Father, and all God’s Children
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
My father was like the best book in the world wrapped in one of those brown grocery bag book covers we all made in high school to protect our textbooks.
From the outside, there was the non-descript, humble shell. In my dad’s case, it was a baggy pair of jeans, a navy windbreaker, a blue striped polo shirt with a penguin instead of polo player, and a pair of brown heavy-soled shoes, well-worn at the heel.
When you opened the book’s cover, oh the glorious knowledge and full-color photos! If ibooks had been around when my father was alive…he would have been one. He was a wellspring of knowledge. He would speak easily with anyone from a U.S. Ambassador to Kyrghistan to a homeless man sitting in front of Winn Dixie. David Wallace Anderson was brilliant and humble.
He worked the night-shift at the U.S. Post Office, sorting mail for forty years, because it paid more than working days.
By the world’s standards, he was a simple man, some might call him a failure.
He is the finest man I’ve ever known.
When I was a swimmer in high school, he would come home from the post office at 2 a.m., then wake up again at 4 a.m. in order to get me to swim practice at 5 a.m. He came to every swim meet. Not content to sit in the stands, he became a lane timer, and then took the test to become a lane judge, which enabled him to join our team at U.S. Junior Nationals and be there when I set the Junior National Age Group record in the 100-meter freestyle.
He baked huge trays of lasagna and chocolate chip cookies to share with the team.
When I came home from college, I asked my father, with all my new found college smarts and arrogance, what his dreams were. He said, “I live my dreams through you.”
I am only sorry that he passed away before I stopped being a selfish brat and became a woman who understood the real measure of a life is what we share of ourselves, so I could tell him, “Thank you Dad, for showing me what a successful person really looks like.”
I wrote my first novel, A Map of Heaven, for my father. It’s about my view of life, his death, and what I imagine a conversation with him would be like in Heaven. It took me twenty years to get it right, and I believe it’s a very fine book. Daddy would agree.
***And this is the point in my essay where I was supposed to transition into the wonder of all fathers.
But then Orlando happened.
On Monday morning, Father Charlie Brumbaugh of St. John’s Episcopal Church, called and invited me to join a community prayer service that evening ‘in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Orlando, Florida’. I welcomed the opportunity because I’d spent the last 24-hours feeling a combination of anger and sadness at the heinous slaughter that had occurred.
At 6:30 that evening about thirty people gathered, from different faith traditions, and listened to Father Charlie and Reverend Claire McNulty Drewes, and others lead us in prayer, a beautiful 23rd Psalm sung in Hebrew, and sharing by anyone who cared to speak.
I stood and read a passage from the Bible that seemed to express the longing I’d felt all day.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
After the prayer service, I understood why this psalm spoke to feelings I couldn’t adequately express. Underlying my fear, was a longing for refuge with my Heavenly Father. I needed reassurance that amidst all the insanity of Orlando, there still existed love and goodness in this world.
What we lost in Orlando wasn’t 49 lives defined by initials, like LGBTQ.
We lost 49 beautiful, loving individuals who were connected to this world through families and friends and lovers who will never again hear their voice or feel their touch or know what their lives would have contributed to our future.
Let’s agree now and forever, that we are all children of God.
Yes, that’s the easy part. But, I still cannot make sense of the loss. I cannot answer, “Where was God?”
Yet, I know God was there. In the carnage and wreckage and sorrow. And in the miracles. I know that always in the end, Love wins. And God is Love.
My friend Barbara lent me a book by Thomas Merton. Last night I picked it up and read this: The more I become identified with God, the more will I be identified with all others who are identified with Him. His Love will live in all of us. His Spirit will be our One Life, the Life of all of us and Life of God. And we shall love one another and God with the same Love with which He loves us and Himself. This love is God Himself.
But in the in between place, I need to go to my Father’s House. I need to seek God and ask difficult questions and know that I won’t hear an answer that makes sense.
But I will hear, “Love. Peace. Holy.”
When I gathered with others at St. John’s on Monday, I was reminded that community opens a space for the Holy Spirit to be among us. In times of crisis, we gather to share our grief and our hope and our certainty that we will do what we can to make things better in the future. And what we cannot do, God will.
God will show us how to love in the face of hate. Because that is what He did for us on the Cross.
In the House of My Heavenly Father, my heart is filled.
P.S. On July 10th, the Summit Interfaith Council continues its Second Sunday Film series presenting Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA. The film discusses how guns affect the lives of everyday Americans. It features personal stories from people across the country who have been affected by gun violence, including survivors and victims’ families. Whatever your stance on gun issues, I hope you will attend. Location to be determined, watch for more information in The Summit Daily News.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of “A Map of Heaven.” She lives in Breckenridge. Join her at www.Facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths or www.suzanneelizabeths.com