Understanding ourselves at present is entirely dependent upon whether we understand where we've been, who we've come from, what paths we've walked, and this is my time to look back over my shoulder at the places I've been and the people that have touched my life, the ghosts that still linger.
Such an integral part of our stories are the stories that are told before we come to be, stories that weave themselves into who we are and where we're going like a tapestry in time, a fabric of life and love and moments...
My father was fifteen the year he enlisted in the army. The "police action" in Korea was underway and he and a friend stood in line to sign their names and board a bus and take a flight to the other side of the world, to a winter-frozen hell where they would tread in soaked boots through feet of snow on endless marches, huddle together in muddy foxholes while the rain poured down, breathe in the thick air of a Korean summer months later.
As a child, the old black and white photographs of the Korean villages fascinated me, photographs with tattered edges, carrying the faces of people I would never know in a land I would never see. I didn't know then how deeply those other lives, those far distant memories that weren't even my own, those days long past, would carve themselves into my heart, into who I am.
My father rarely spoke about Korea. The hurts were too deep, the scars still present; deep gouges on his legs where the shrapnel remained, where the bullet lodged itself. The scars on his heart were deeper and harder to see. His silence fascinated me, too. Unchartered territory would always draw me.
I can close my eyes now and see his face in the dark, bending over my tiny white bed to say goodnight, to rub his rough face on my cheek so he could listen to me laugh. It hurt, but it was worth it.
Tell me a story, Daddy.
He would sigh and ease his heavy boxers frame down beside me..."Once upon a time..."
"No, Daddy! About Korea! Tell me another story about Korea."
"My commanding officer was a black man..." He would begin and in his deep daddy voice he would tell of heroism and bravery and courage.
In the quiet dark of my bedroom, with ruffled curtains and an array of little girl toys, with blue moonlight seeping in through the windows of that childish space, my father talked of Korea, of the villages and the people and his company of officers. He talked of the day he was shot and how his African American sergeant carried him for more than five miles to take my young father to the medics. He talked of the day the grenade fell into their foxhole and how another friend pushed him to safety and laid his body over my fathers to protect him from the blast. My father came home with metal in his legs. His courageous friend didn't come home at all. I don't know why he could talk about it then, in the dark of that innocent place, telling it to a child who couldn't really understand, but he did. And I'm so grateful.
I laid very still and listened and loved and was won over by the first hero of a girls heart. Sometimes I fell asleep while he murmured. Other times the stories were too enchanting and I would fall asleep much later, reliving them in my imagination.
I wanted to be just like him.
Those stories touched me and instilled in me a deep sense of patriotism, of pride and also, a deep need for this hero to approve of me. I would spend our remaining time together trying to prove that I was tough enough, strong enough to be his daughter. I wasn't weak or afraid or little. I was a hero, too. And hero's don't cry. They don't tremble. They don't hesitate. Hero's hold their chins up and keep fighting.
Over the coming years I would have plenty of opportunity to practice this hero's mantra. My father would eventually leave without even a goodbye. My older brother, another hero, would also go his own way and I wouldn't see him for almost a decade. That little girl in the dark, quiet room would wait forever for her father to kiss her goodnight, for her brother to come home, but they would not return.
I determined that not a tear would fall for that pain. I wouldn't cry for them no matter how my heart broke. I replaced my brokenness with rage and pride and buffered myself with sarcasm and sharp reposts. At fifteen years old, I could take care of myself, just like my father had. I didn't need anyone now. I wouldn't ask for help, admit weakness, shed a tear, voice a hurt, show love, express joy or come to need another person. Life became a battleground and every encounter was full of possible dangers, other avenues down which my father could walk when he left me again and again and again in memory and in the painful rejections of others. I made the choice to be alone.
And then, as if winter were somehow creeping like darkness into me, the angry cold of bitterness and hurt and utter aloneness formed like a coiling wraith, like ice around my heart. The child was gone. That quaint room with the white bed had faded into dim past and now only the woman remained, a woman who could not weep. Not for pain or joy or beauty or fullness- but who could only live the half-breathed life of self preservation, a life in shadows where the sun never reached, where soil is cold, dormant, frozen and sterile- a life lived in perpetual winter, starving for light.
This is my back story. The history of who my father was and how his life touched mine and made me who I am. This is my tapestry, woven of war, marred by winters frost.
In another room, soft with the glow of candlelight, another Father sits and thinks of his daughter. And he begins to weave, His old hands adding red and green and gold, threads of mercy and protection and grace to a life marred by loneliness and heartbreak. In the soft light He smiles and thinks of how pleased she will be when He's finished, when she finally knows that her father never left her, that He has watched her sleep and held her hand. He has plans for this tapestry of living and his eyes fill as He thinks of them. Suddenly though, he stops, as if listening.
Beyond His quiet weaver's room the snow falls, but beneath it, in the fertile soil of the weaver's garden, something stirs...
growth, it seems.
The weaver nods as if in agreement. Yes, it is time for spring.