It’s raining here where I am, and whenever it rains, I’m guaranteed one thing: a call from you.
You’ve become quite the weatherman this past year. You watch the news every morning and every night, and sometimes, when time permits and the paintings aren’t calling for your attention, you wander over to The Weather Channel. That’s when I get a call. Normally they’re short conversations. You just need to check that I’m okay, that my house hasn’t blown away in some freak gust of wind, that I haven’t drowned in flooding. It doesn’t help that you can never remember where exactly I live, so you call me for all manner of weather-related concerns: tornadoes in the Mid-West, flooding in California, torrential rains in South Carolina. But you do have an uncanny knack for knowing when it’s raining around me.
Tonight, it’s raining, and tonight, you called.
The conversation went just as it normally does when there’s weather involved. You consulted with me about the volume of rain, whether we were safe from flooding, if it would last a long time. When you were satisfied that I was dry and safe, you said, “Oh, and there was one more thing we needed to talk about.”
I would’ve never guessed what came out of your mouth.
The thing is, Dad, you’re not well off. You live off your Social Security income. G and I supplement things—your food, your phone and cable bills, etc.—but to be honest about it, you don’t live in the grandest of circumstances.
And you’re the most content, happy person I’ve ever met.
At close to 80 years old and unable to read, you found the apartment yourself, rented it yourself, and live by yourself. You cook for yourself, paint every single day without fail, and go to Mass every day except Sundays (which is too crowded for your tastes). You walk your neighborhood rain, snow, and shine, spilling your wisdoms and kindnesses all over the sidewalk like treasures hidden in smog. One of the things I have the hardest time with is knowing that your living situation isn’t what I would give to you, and accepting your right to live how you’d like, not how I decide for you. (I’m working on it, Dad.)
So today, after you’d settled things with the rain, you surprised me when you said, “So you think when we sell another painting, you think maybe if we sell it for $150, we could give $24 to you—no, $25—$24 to you, and then another $25 we could give to the children?”
At first I thought you meant my children, of which I don’t have any. Every now and again you ask me, “Babies yet? No babies?” and I say, “No, no babies yet.” So at first, this is what I thought you meant. It wasn’t.
“I mean the poor children,” you clarified. “I think we can give $25 to you—”
“Yes, and $25 to the poor children. Because there are poor children, you know, and they need food too. Can we do that? Can we give money to them? To help them out?”
I had to promise you many times that I’d do this. I’d take $25 for myself, for keeping your website up-to-date with the images of your work and answering your customers’ emails for you and relaying the messages, and that I’d be sure that a group who feeds and cares for poor children would get another $25. I promised to do this every time you sold a painting. Out of $150, you’d keep $100 for your own needs. I promised, I promised, and I promised, and finally, you believed I’d keep my word.
For some reason, as I stood in the kitchen and watched the steady rain come down outside the windows and listened to your request, I heard your doctor’s voice in my head. A warning, three years old, given to me as you lay unconscious in the Neuro ICU and I sat in the chair beside you. You need to prepare yourself, the doctor explained. Oftentimes, they’re mean after an event like this. There’s a lot of confusion and frustration from their new limitations. It’s unfortunate, but it seems to happen that way more often than not.
I listened to the doctor, Dad. I prepared myself for your anger and your gruffness, your temper and bristling condescension. After three years, it’s yet to arrive. It’s a storm foretold, and blown off course.
How wonderful would it be if with every horrid prediction made in life, we simply puffed out our cheeks, let loose a great gust of breath, and cleared the thundering skies? Let’s start over, we’d say, just like you did three short years ago. We can do better. We might not have much, but look what we can do with a promise.