Category: Personal History

No Way to Say Goodbye

Christie and Dad, circa 1983
My father and I, circa 1983. That's Mr. Bear in the background.

This Spring marks a decade since I last saw my father. We didn’t speak and he didn’t actually acknowledge my presence, but I know he saw me in the courtroom because his public defender requested that the judge have me removed as a potential witness. The judge denied this request, and I stayed to watch the rest of my father’s arraignment. If you’re curious why my father was in court, watch this video, or read this article.

I don’t actually recall when my father and I last spoke. To the best of my recollection, it was sometime in 2000. We had on-again off-again communication while I was in college, but at some point I decided that a continued relationship with him was just not a healthy thing for me and distanced myself quite a bit.

Last night one of my brothers called and told me he’d just found out that our father had a heart attack the week prior, had been in the hospital for a few days and was now released. My brother didn’t have any specific information about our father’s condition other than that he had collapse while running errands and had woken up in the hospital.

It’s very difficult for me to imagine my father collapsing and being in the hospital. Logically and factually, it’s not surprising that had had a heart attack. We’re talking about a man who has seen a doctor a handful of times in his life (that I know about), smoked for decades, ate a very unhealthful diet and did amphetamines. In many ways, I’m surprised he hasn’t had more significant health issues. However, my mental and emotional memory of him is dominated by a single image: lean, mean, angry and muscular, albeit with a slight lilt from a bad back. It’s just weird to think of him as being old and frail and in ill health. But that seems to be where we are headed.

Aging is a normal process, of course, but it’s unsettling when it’s happening to a parent and even more strange when it happens to a parent with whom you’re estranged. I find myself wondering if I’m going to get to say my final goodbyes, or if I will simply hear about his passing sometime after it happens. Should I attempt to make a kind of peace with him, or with myself about him, sooner rather than later? The answers to these questions seem unknowable.


Our Vows

These are the vows that Sherri and I made to each other during our ceremony yesterday. I thought it would be nice to share them here (you can also read the text of the entire ceremony).

Shared Vows (based on the Five Grave Buddhist Precepts)

In the practice of our marriage, I vow to affirm, cherish and protect the lives of all sentient beings.

In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be generous with my time, energy and material resources and to take only what is freely given.

In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct and to cultivate my responsibility to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.

In the practice of our marriage, I vow to manifest truth, to cultivate loving speech and deep listening. I will refrain from using words of discord and will make every attempt to resolve conflict, great and small.

In the practice of our marriage, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

Sherri’s Vows

I will always remember seeing you on the first day of 2008. It was merely the third time I had seen you in person, but in the bright light of early afternoon I suddenly knew with certainty that my life was about to change in a significant way.

So it did, and here we are today in front of friends and relations. All of us gathered to honor the power of publicly taking vows to love, honor and cherish one another. It has been a mad dash to get to this dazzling finish, complete with unexpected news, arguments, wild passion, laughter, and tears. I’m told this is perfectly ordinary even though it feels to me rather extraordinary.

In addition to the precepts, which I have vowed to make a fundamental part of the practice of my marriage with you, I offer these vows from my heart:

  • I vow to nurture unbridled joy in equal measure with gravitas.
  • I vow to great each day with loving-kindness.
  • I vow to nourish my health so that we may explore many more years together.
  • I vow to create art, write, sing and cultivate playfulness together with you.
  • I vow to admit when I am wrong.
  • I vow to offer you cheer, humor, deep listening, and wise counsel. Whenever needed.
  • I vow to challenge myself and you so we continue to grow fully into who we can be.
  • I vow to read you poetry.

For my birthday last year you gave me a collection of Rumi’s poetry translated by Coleman Barks; an edition I did not have. It had been an amazing day spent celebrating my birthday and you fell asleep early. I stayed awake longer to read poems and enjoy my cake. One poem in particular really caught me; I knew I wanted to say some of the words from it to you at our wedding. Although I feel rather presumptuous playing with Rumi’s words, I do so as an act of love and from a deep honoring of the original poem, “The Self We Share”. These words especially speak to me of you and of this moment when written in this way:

The Prayer of Each

You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud.
You honor my soul.
You bring rivers from the mountain springs.
You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself into the self we share.

Doing that is religion.

I am a prayer.
You’re the amen.

Christie’s Vows

My dearest Sherri: You are one of the most generous, compassionate and courageous spirits I have ever met. From the beginning, you opened your heart wide to me and while cautious at first, I have learned to take great refuge in your presence.

In addition the precepts we have already shared, I offer a few of my own vows:

Because our life together will not always be easy, I vow to meet challenges in our relationship with a sense of compassion and adventure.

Because our family is but one piece in a very large puzzle. I vow to live a life of service to you, to our marriage and to our community.

Because while love is not scarce, many resources are, I vow to make sure you always have the things you need most such as food, water, shelter and art supplies. I vow to utilize our resources wisely.

Because I want to spend the most amount of time possible with you and grow old together, I vow to care for my body and mind.

Because play is just as important as work, I vow to cultivate playfulness, laughter and lightness in our relationship.

Because what I was hiding, deep inside, you brought out into the light, and even thought it is terrifying at times, I vow to stand bravely in the light of your love.

My dearest Sherri, You are the first person who made me truly feel loved. I look forward to sharing a life of practice with you and I am truly honored that you are making this commitment with me here today, in front of our friends and family.

Exchange of Rings

May our marriage be nurturing, intimate and supportive throughout the years. May our marriage be a refuge to us as we cultivate kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings. I give you this ring as a symbol of my vows and commitment to you with body, speech and mind. In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty.