Yesterday I talked about how I managed to force my mind to slip into a subconscious, trance-like state while my head was bolted inside a helmet, and my body stuck in an MRI tunnel for 30 minutes. Good times.
When your fight-or-flight response wants to high jack your psyche, unnecessarily, there is an alternate impulse minds are meant to resort to--the parasympathetic response. To slow breathing, heart rate, and calm the mind.
Being stuck in that MRI, my mind managed to do that, and part of what carried me through a half hour laying in confinement, was imagining in exacting detail my teenage camping and backpacking trips with my dad.
I should preface this post with the admission that in my 20's my relationship with my dad did shift from something benign to a very strained situation. BUT, by the grace of God, however, we made our peace before he died. That period is come and gone. May he rest in peace.
So this post is about my father, and our fathers.
Except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it seems according to some Doctors of the Church St. Joseph too, all of us are a mixture of virtue and sin.
So it is with our fathers, with my father. They go off to work and bring home the bacon. They change the oil and balance the checkbook.
Like many men out there, my dad had a good side and a dark side. There's the side that wants to do good by their wife and children. And there's the side where...well, fill in the blank.
Our backpacking trips were magical. Something eased my dad's nerves into a state of sustained serenity and well-being. Even mishaps and misjudgments were met with a very moderate response. Something about the outdoors. Something about taking a Time Out from the social grind. It's a natural mystery, how the outdoors, at least in my experience, is civilizing and balancing.
Perhaps you have experienced the vexing and strained side of your father, or worse. I'd imagine most have. But for me these outdoor trips were a taste of heaven. A time of serenity and joy.
Looking up the side of the small mountain (I say small because the "mountains" we backpacked in Oklahoma and Arkansas were, relative to most, small), I took the backpacks out of the trunk. Dad had the map spread across the hood of the car. It was always a pleasure to scan the map and see where the sites along the way were marked by symbols in the map's legend. It was as much a symbolic journey of accomplishment, to make it through the ups and downs marked by the map, as the actual physical accomplishment.
Before passing the trailhead, we checked our gear and food, but once we stepped onto the trail, we entered a new reality. The reality of father and son enjoying the pure outdoors.
One of my fondest memories is of our times, at the end of a day of arduous backpacking, when we reached the bottom of a valley along a creek or small river. Tent set up, water gathered, campfire roaring, dinner cooked, the nearby stream giving gentle, relaxing sounds, father and son would settle in by the fireside for a good long talk.
We told stories. We talked about life. We celebrated our day's accomplishment. We planned the next day's route.
Those were blessed times. As a nature lover, and a Catholic believer, I imagine heaven being a natural place of mountains and streams. It was the book of the Apocalypse after all that revealed heaven would be a "new Creation."
And so that is my hope. My hope is that one day, when we have steadfastly endured the hike of life through this valley of tears, we will join our loved ones in the new Creation. There I hope to enjoy a campfire again with my dad, and a good, long hike.