I was studying the face of a good man the other night…
“You jump to conclusions too fast,” my father would have said had I told him this story. “Too trusting — that’s your problem.”
Dad is fearful, especially as a parent; and I can’t really judge the guy for that. History has played a hideous prank on his country and his life, and it continues treating him and his people as dispensable. Surely, there cannot be a bigger heartbreak than that. There cannot be a bigger absurdity. And I can’t really blame the poor guy caught in the midst of a Kafka play.
So, I forgive him for his limitations, his shortcomings, his imposing fearfulness. Instead, I stretch the boundaries of my unconditional love — of my compassion — and I choose to think of him as a good man.
My father — is a good, good man.
But I would never tell him this story:
I was studying the face of a good man the other night. I barely knew him, but not once had I wondered whether he had made his share of mistakes in life, his share of missteps. I suppose I was certain he had. But they mattered little in that moment.
Because I chose to think of him as a good, good man.
(I AM too trusting — that’s my problem.)
And I listened.
He spoke to me of his travels, of leaving his doubts, vanity and fears behind; and biking across the country with nothing but a backpack and a camera.
He told me about the perseverance of the body if only one could control the mind. In survival, he said, there was a chronic juxtaposition of reflexes versus fragility. And when confronting the most basic needs, there was a balance and a great humility.
And there was beauty in the defeat of despair with one’s courage, in the elation of that success; and in the overall simplicity of living.
“What a good man!” I thought. “What a good, good man!”
The road threw him for a loop a number of times, but he told me about the clarity of the mind if one was traveling light.
“It’s a good thing I hit the road without any expectations,” he told me.
It made sense.
He spoke about having no possessions to weight down his choices and no expectations. Neither were there any grudges or resentments against humanity — others’ or his own. His journey was not a conquest: Not a thing dictated by the ego. So, he traveled with a lesser emotional baggage, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.
His only responsibility on the road — was his family. He would have been a lot more reckless, it seemed, had it not been for the nightly on-line messages that he promised to send their way. And so he would. No matter the difficulties of the day, no matter the survivals and the defeats, the despair and the courage, he would telegraph his experiences home. And these letters — his road journals, the confessions of a transcendent mind — were the only threads leading back to the people he loved.
(I chuckled. I would never tell my father this story: He’d find me too trusting. That’s my problem.)
“What made you do this thing in the first place?” I asked.
The humble badass smiled at me as if he could read the answer on my face — my good, good face — and he said:
“Because the one thing I know — is that I cannot stop knowing.”
And so, I was studying the face of a good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.
My life — was not the life of my father: I had bigger control over my circumstances; enough control to allow myself the occasional hubris of assuming that I was a person of consequence. I could make choices, you see. Unlike my father — my good, good father — I could choose my situations, or even change them. And I had the luxury of freedom: to pursue my life’s ambitions and to continue “knowing”; to continue learning.
Somehow, I had made the choice — to be good, in life. There had been plenty of situations that tested my ethics before. Yet even in defeat, in shame, in pain, I could always return to the track of goodness. I could always see my way back to redemption. Because even though my life was not my father’s, my ethics — were indeed his.
And my father — was always a good, good man.
And so, I was studying the face of a good, good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.
“But I just can’t forgive myself,” my father had confessed a number of times. “That’s my problem.”
Alas: That was the main difference between my father’s character and my own. I always chose to travel lightly, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well. I chose to have the power of self-forgiveness. And I could always see my way back to redemption.