Cocooned in my bulky parka and partially shielded by my woolen hat, I attempted to hunker down on the sled my father pulled. Since it was little more than a cold, flat slab, there was no place into which I could borrow.
The Christmas snowstorm, providing the optimum conditions to test my very present, had deposited several inches of snow over which the sled’s skids now easily glided, propelled by the rhythmic crunch of my father’s boots.
I once again sought refuge, despite the swollen suit, from the stinging chill whose onslaught came from a single direction—ahead. As I looked up, I saw my father walking away from me, unaware that the reins to my arctic carpet had severed. Slowly receding, he became as distant as the sky.
And it was toward that sky that I now looked, seeing the brilliant sun pierce the clouds.
Transitioning from a brisk walk to a trot, my father, behind me now, steadied the bicycle with a stick. I was determined to learn how to ride it.
“I love it!” I had exclaimed when he had bought if for me a few days earlier. “But where are the training wheels?”
“You don’t need them,” he had explained, shaking his head.
“But all of the other kids have them,” I had countered.
“You can learn to ride it without them.”
“Then I’ll practice everyday—even before school,” I had proclaimed.
“Well, I don’t know if you can work that in before,” he had reasoned, “–certainly after.”
September blew its cool breath that morning as I made a concerted effort to balance myself, an opponent to both my still-sprouting skill and the imminently-arriving school bus. At last, I felt free and autonomous, biting into the air with such speed that I could not believe that my father could run that fast. But a quick crane of my neck revealed that he stood stationary, stick in hand, receding behind me. I made it, I thought, as I looked toward the sky, seeing the brilliant sun pierce the clouds.
My father said nothing that cool, May morning as he drove. Peering through the windshield, I saw my pending driving test and high school graduation loom in front of me.
Making that final turn, the car slowly moved past the students, who stood like sentinels, awaiting their transition tests into life. My father parked the car and said, “Remember what I taught you,” as I slowly nodded.
The Motor Vehicles instructor alighted from what must have been his tenth circuit that day, approached me, and read my name from the roster. For a second time, I slowly nodded, and we both entered my father’s car, but I took his seat now.
Inserting the key, I started the engine. Flooded with rules and procedures, I looked over my shoulder, checking for traffic, and engaged the turn indicator, before nudging away from the curb and slowly surmounting the street. As I glanced at the rearview mirror, I saw my father’s image slowly recede behind me.
Making the same turn he had earlier that morning, I triumphantly returned. Now I could slip into his shoes–and life.
I looked toward the sky, seeing the brilliant sun pierce the clouds.
The days merged into weeks and the weeks merged into years, as we pursued our individual paths of development. But, inevitably, eternity knocked on the door and my father answered it.
Driving, now alone, I thought of him pulling that sled in front of me when I had been little more than a baby, and balancing that bicycle behind me in later years, and driving that car next to me shortly before my graduation, until I myself turned into my destination. It was a remarkably serene place: covered with green quilts of freshly mowed grass stitched together by the narrow paths which accessed them, it was bordered by cool pine trees. A lone deer scampered in the distance.
Turning off the engine, I began my own walk–to eternity–to that stone which served as his last earthly mark. And approaching it, I looked toward the sky, seeing the brilliant light piercing the clouds with my soul. It was not the sun this time.