Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.
– Proverbs 4:25
The myriad attempts to back out of my long, narrow driveway are embarrassingly comical. It’s shameful to me, certainly, because we live on a busy street and there are a lot of witnesses. But it’s hilarious to my son, in the passenger seat, shaking with laughter as I steer directly into, versus alongside, my reference points. First spirea, then brick wall, then spirea, then brick wall. And on and on it goes for a full 75 feet.
The only solution I have found is to look dead ahead. When I stare unblinkingly at the bullseye which is my neighbour’s plastic storage shelter and drive, albeit slowly, the straight reverse is doable. When I look too long, or too hard, at what’s behind, the bushes and the brick wall beckon.
Having spent most of 2021 thinking about and living in the past—and feeling pinned to the wall, emotionally and spiritually, because of it—I find the metaphor too powerful to be ignored.
Anecdotal research would indicate I’m not alone. I know many people for whom the past has been undeniably present during this pandemic. Sure, we pay lip service to taking things “one day at a time” because planning ahead, for anything, seems next to impossible. The trouble with today, especially with so little tomorrow to distract one’s attention, is that yesterday takes centre stage more often than it should.
And then there has been the collapse of in-person contact with coping communities. From the church to the water cooler and all points in between, a pre-pandemic world held countless opportunities for laughter, spontaneous conversations and so many human interactions that contributed to an overall sense of wholeness and forward momentum.
And if the pandemic itself wasn’t enough, I’ve spent the last couple of years hyper-attentively watching my son’s progress through adolescence, which seems to have triggered a regression into the most jagged parts of my own. As Joe intensifies his bond with his father—thanks to a relationship built on love and rational discipline versus fear and an unpredictable temper—the mother in me celebrates while the inner child feels insanely jealous.
For many years, since his death in 2005, I had a recurring dream about my father. The venues were always different, but the storyline was consistent: Dad is alive again and back in town—but for one night only and I need to get to the diner/truck stop/ pool hall to see him. The dream itself centres on the challenge of getting there and overcoming the many surreal obstacles that dreamers face.
For years the journey, while chaotic, would result in my reaching the destination just in the nick of time. There I would find my dad, well again and happy, with that familiar warm smile that reflected the peaceful side of his character.
It was once a very comforting dream, but for the past year I have been unable to find him, not even once.
I didn’t always know what to say to my father during the few months before his death when he was wrestling with his own past. He was awash with regret, mostly about his heavy-handedness with his children. In not having spared the rod he wasn’t parenting the best way he knew how, but the only way he knew how.
In the palliative care ward, I comforted my father naively, relying on anemic cliches about the past being in the past and all having been forgiven and forgotten. I didn’t have a child of my own then and I could not have imagined the eventual side effects of breaking a generations-long chain of corporal punishment. I knew better and so I have done better. Isn’t that enough? Why am I so angry now?
I spent more mornings than I can count in 2021 still lost in the night at the break of dawn looking for a peaceful resolution that I can no longer find. It’s more of a primal scream than a resolution to say I must find a way to fix my gaze directly before me in 2022.
These days I pray to have faith enough to place these things at the foot of the cross and thank God for the gifts that have been given to me through my earthly father. The good is to be treasured, the burdens are to be surrendered.
To spend any more of my life looking back is to choose to travel a road that ends with a brick wall.