I have often wondered what my dear dog thinks as she runs to me from across the field, comes to a sudden stop at my feet, sits, and leans hard into my legs. I look down at her and she looks up, our gaze meeting as I run my fingers through her thick neck fur. I smile, and her eyes stay locked on mine, but only for a while, before she bounds off in pursuit of some doggish pleasure that only she knows, or so I imagine.
And then there are the chickens. They gather around me the first thing every morning as I step outside to empty the coffee grounds on the mint bed right outside the cabin door. They dash over hoping to eat whatever treat I might beneficently toss down to them. And if, first thing, I happen to be heading off to court, they will even follow me in my lawyer clothes out to the car, still hoping for a treat. Or at least I imagine that it is chicken hope that sparks this early morning mugging. I even imagine that some of the more bold birds would hop right up into my car, and ride off to court with me, if given even the slightest encouragement. What thoughts could possibly be passing through this flock of feathered heads.
But today I not wondering about the thoughts of our farm companions. Today I am wondering about my father.
As my brother, his wife, and I walked into the room to greet him, I was not even so sure that the man before us was my father. Only a few weeks had passed, but I still hesitated, and doubted my own recognition. The figure before me appeared to be my father, but somehow, until we drew near, I was uncertain. He is still a very handsome man, dressed in his perennial blue button down shirt and khaki slacks, but his soft blue eyes remained down cast, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings, and his once straight back was slumped.
We greeted him, and bent over to kiss him, and he slowly looked up. His eyes shifted from one of us to the other, and slowly, the glimmer of recognition flickered in his eyes and his face took a more familiar form. “My dears”, he said, and we chatted about our drive and held his hands, but in time the glimmer faded, and he looked down into his lap once again.
We continued to talk easily of our lives, our children and grandchildren, his great grandchildren, and occasionally, as our voices rose and fell, his gaze would catch ours and his eyes would shine more clearly, but he was silent. Only when our conversation paused, did he look up and say “please, keep on talking.”
And all the while I wondered, as our easy sibling words ebbed and flowed, what thoughts were passing across his mind, but as I held his hand I imagined, even when his face dulled, that I could see the shadow of a comforting stillness just behind his gentle blue eyes.
I imagined that my mother’s husband and fellow dreamer, the inventor, watchmaker, and longshoreman, the young man who had hopped the freight trains across the country with the hobos, the solo pilot who had found and then lost the Los Padres mine, and my all time, ever so favorite story teller, was still here with us, but was almost, though not quite, ready to let go.
He reveled, to our surprise, in eating spoonfuls of ketchup, and we assured his gentle caretakers that he could eat whatever he chose. No need to eat any vegetables unless he wanted, and on the days that he declined, no need to even eat at all. These simple things he could still decide, and we decided to honor his choice.
As we turned to leave, and took our gaze off of our father, my brother, his wife, and I looked deep into each other’s eyes, and then wordless, arms entwined, we walked slowly away, back down the hall toward our lives beyond. But just before we turned the corner, we paused and looked back. His head was once again bent forward, but this time as I looked at him, I could smile with certainty.
I was able to imagine the shadow of a comforting stillness just behind his eyes, and I knew that we were carrying his thoughts, filled with his gentle imagination, off into the world with us.