I saw him first!
The roles reversed: When I departed, nearly twenty years ago — so reckless in my youth and dumb — he was the last to disconnect our gazes.
Such had to be the burden of the ones we left behind! And such — the mindless blessing of the ones with great adventures to distract them from the pain of leaving.
What courage it had cost him — to hold the ground and not crumble then, until I turned the corner! And how I would never learn it, until I birthed a child, myself!
And yet, he did: My darling old man. The hero of my lifetime doomed to never disappoint my expectations.
The one to whom my every love would be compared: the ultimate ideal for a man’s goodness. My goodness.
The one who, in tumultuous times, had to commit the ultimate, unselfish act of love — and let me leave in my pursuit of bigger dreams than our homeland could offer. (Would those dreams turn out to be worth our mutual sacrifice? My life is yet to reveal its bottom line. But how I pray!)
And when my hardships happened, oceans away — the one to suffer heartbreaks of a parent’s helplessness and the titan strength of prayer.
The one to not let go, despite the distances and family feuds. (Alas, human stupidity: It never fails to permeate a story.) The one to change in order to keep up. The one — to love and wait.
This time, I saw him first!
The crowds of tired passengers were whirling all around him: Loves leaving, in their acts of youthful recklessness or being pulled by bigger circumstances. The lucky ones — were coming home. The floor tiles of the airport endured the writing of rushed footsteps, scoffed wheels of those things that people felt they had to bring along; the punctuation of chic heels of pretty girls; the patter of children’s feet, so blissful and undamaged in their innocence. Tomes could be written if every footstep could be interviewed: The snippets of humanity’s stories that were so often unpredictable, impossible to imagine. But when these stories happened to make sense — when stubborn courage persevered, when love learned to forgive — they found unequal beauty. (Oh, how we could all pray for that! Oh, how we should pray!)
One million more of pedestrians could be packed into the terminal — and I would still recognize my father’s outline. The mind’s a funny thing, of course: Recently, it began to blackmail me with forgetfulness. The first nightmare in which my father had no face — would be the turning point I’d call Forgiveness.
But when I saw him — and I saw him first! — I knew that I would not be able to forget him, ever! Because he was the one I’d spent half a lifetime trying to get back to; the one with whose name I’d christened my every accomplishment; with which I had defeated every failure. He was the love; the never failing reason for it. My starting point and the North Star whose shine I followed to find my way, in and out of grace, and back again.
And when I saw him first and called him: “Oh, my goodness!”
It had to be a prayer, for I had learned to pray — in order to come back.
No cinematic trick can capture the surreal speed with which he turned in my direction. The mind sped up. It knew: This had to be THE memory of my lifetime. This — was where my life would turn its course; and in the morning, I would no longer be the prodigal daughter looking for her homecoming, but an inspired child of one great man.
He turned. The smile with which he studied my departure, nearly twenty years ago, returned to his face, this time, again: It was a tight-lipped gesture of a man trying his hardest not to crumble. The loss had been magnificent; an the return — worth every prayer.
“My goodness! Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!” I continued muttering. (That’s how I prayed, for years! Oh, how I’d prayed!)
I waved. And then, I waved again. The mind continued turning quickly. It had to remember every single detail of that day, so it could last forever. And fleetingly, it granted me a thought: The manner of my wave was very childlike, as if belonging to an infant mirroring a kind stranger’s hand. But in the moment, I knew no vanity. I cared none — for grace.
When dad’s hand flew up, I noticed: He’d aged. His timid gesture was affected by the trembling fingers and the disbelief of someone who hadn’t realized the perseverance of his prayer. C’mon! There had to be some moments in his life, historical events of giant hopelessness that the entire world endured since last I left, when he, like me, would lose the sight of reason.
Or maybe not. Perhaps, my father prayed! Perhaps, he prayed and bargained with his gods for this very opportunity to persevere life — and see my running back into his arms.
For this one moment, all — had been worth it! My life was worth when my father held me for the first time since nearly twenty years ago.
And I? I kept on praying:
“Oh, my goodness!”
For that had been my father’s name, for years.