In The Balance

I took a picture of this butterfly this morning, balancing on the end of a piece of grass, gently and irregularly opening and closing his wings. Like my father, I can’t get a clear shot. He is in and out of focus. Will the monarch have the energy to gather with the others at the edge of Lake Ontario and make the thousands of kilometres trek to Mexico? Or is that something for the others. Have they already gathered on this cool September morning.

I am sitting beside my father as he sleeps, restlessly in his hospital bed. He had a couple of strokes last week. It’s been a long week and the long drives have been spent thinking about the past.

As a little boy the only way I could hold my father’s hand was to take hold of his finger with my little hand, to keep him close. And in the car, he would lean forward onto the steering wheel to have me grab him from behind and pull him back off of the steering wheel. I can’t imagine what it felt like for him to have my little hands holding, clutching, pulling. That was our language and our vocabulary.

I’ve brought some enlarged photographs to the hospital for him to see, when he wakes. They are pictures of our favourite place on the Ottawa River. I remember, years ago, maybe in my twenties or thirties––my days of prodigal son long behind––one hot and sunny afternoon, we stood waist high in the river, by the dock, drinking beers from “the French side” ––Quebec. We talked about simple things and perhaps happiness. Out loud, I said to my father, “maybe this is as good as it gets,” only because it was so perfect to be in that moment with my dad, with the sun seeming to hang motionless in the middle of the afternoon.

I am blessed with these stills and vignettes from my life. I suppose our lives have been complicated, interesting, challenging, but never boring. My father is a bright man, but our times together have always been filled with simplicity and frequently silent. With little need to speak.

Here, now, watching him, there is so little that needs to be said, it was spoken in those moments years before.

The butterfly surprised me this morning, and it wasn’t until much later that I saw his little balancing act with so much familiarity and recognition.