For My Papa
Perspective is an interesting thing. When I was born, July 22, 1994, my Papa was 66 years old. Obviously, I never knew him any younger. To me, he was always an old man. (And I do mean the phrase “old man” as term of endearment)To him, I was always a young girl. I’ve only known my Papa for 18, almost 19, years. Compared to some of you, that’s hardly any time at all. Also, consider this: I’ve never addressed this man as Brother Hubbard or Pastor. To me he was Papa. Few others in this room addressed him as something other than Pastor or Brother. So, for just a moment, think of how the person next you considers my Papa. It’s overwhelming, the variations of perspective in this room. Only one man, seen in so many different shades of light. All of us are carrying different memories, different connections, different perspectives, of one Papa.
Thinking still, I find it strange that so much emphasis is put on first and last words. The most moving words and speeches ever said in human history were not uttered from cribs or death beds. Of which, I have recently discovered, are more similar than previously imagined. So keeping with that thought process, I would like to share with you some of my favorite moments with my Papa. Which were not at the beginning of his life, and were not at the very end, but pleasantly nestled in the in between, where, I believe, all the emphasis should be placed.
Nana, Papa, and I are sitting the cabin at Family Camp. Papa is in his chair and Nana is in hers. I am talking to Papa telling him how words can sometimes be strange. For instance, if you repeat a word in your head or say a word several times, it can start to sound strange. Word. Word. Wooooorrrrrd. Is that right? Worrrrrrd. I can feel the letters and the meaning of those letters dissolving in my mouth. Papa listens to me carefully. There is not a shade of joking or laughter in his expression. I can see clear understanding on his face. For a moment he considers what I have just said, he then turns to me and says, “Words are strange creatures.”
I agree. Often, I replay that moment in my mind. And every time I do, I find myself agreeing even more than I did the first time.
Another moment, I would like to share:
Mom, Shaun, and I are visiting one weekend. I’ve brought with me a short story I have recently written. For the whole visit, I am nervous. Papa has requested that I read my story aloud. The whole time I am wishing everyone will forget that this has been asked of me. Perhaps this seems strange. Why was I so nervous? I always have a looming feeling that what I write will not be interesting or moving or any of the things I would like it to be. So when I write short stories or poems, I do not intend to read them aloud. I experience nervousness when my words are read privately, so being asked this simple task left me jittery and aching. So, we’re all at Nana and Papa’s house and our visiting is coming to a close. I think I have gotten away with it. I will just gently leave my story behind, to be read when I am not present. “Wait!” Mom says, “We almost forgot!” Oh, great, I think. Mom hands me my papers and even arranges a chair directly in front of Nana and Papa, so I can be properly observed and heard. I feel as though I am standing trial. Which I am glad I wasn’t, because I would have most certainly looked guilty. I hold the papers; they are fluttering in my shaking hands. I rush through the two page story, relieved when I have finished. And I should have known what would happen next. “Read it again,” my Papa says, “Slower.” Not only do I have to suffer through the reading again, but I have to do it slower? I feel my face flush. I take a deep breath. And I read my story once more, slower this time. I allow myself breaks and moments to breathe, which prove to be helpful with my nerves. Once finished, Papa gives me words of encouragement. We all walk out through the porch door. Papa hugs me at the side, and gives me few tips on public speaking. “Go slow,” he says and then adds for emphasis, “sloooooooooooow.” He’s right, I know he is, and I could not have argued otherwise even if I disagreed, considering his public speaking experience.
I decided once, after reminiscing on this specific memory, that I would apply those words, “go slow”, to not only my speeches, but to my life. My family might say that I have applied those words too thoroughly considering I am always left last at the dinner table, and if I am ever seen running you can be most assured that it is because I am in danger.
I have one final observation to share with you; one that has fully struck me only this past week. I find some of my habits eerily similar to my Papa’s. If you have ever seen my Papa’s study, you would notice that it is packed full to the brim with objects and books and compartments packed with papers and notes and envelopes. I remember browsing through his study as if it were a museum. I remember walking into that room while Papa stood or sat near me, and I would point to an object and ask of its’ significance. Without hesitation, he would tell me. Some of the stories were long and complicated and some were simple, none of them were boring. One time, I remember Nana and Papa coming to our house. I had cleaned my room in spectacular fashion and wanted to show it off. Papa walked through in the same way I had walked through his study. As if it was a museum. He observed carefully ever knick knack and every photo tacked. Occasionally, he would point to an object and inquire about it. And I would tell him, without hesitation. Sometimes the stories were long and complicated and sometimes they were simple. And I hoped they were not boring.
In this way, my Papa and I are most similar, in my opinion. Little treasures are hidden in bowls and containers. If you were to open a book you might find tucked in between pages small favors, small tokens picked up and nestled carefully. Every object is secretly a symbol that only we can interpret, but we don’t mind sharing its’ meaning. In drawers and envelopes there are pictures, little notes kept from friends and loved ones. Messages are written haphazardly on note book pages, scrap papers, napkins, in my case, and on phone books, in his case. We are both collectors of memories, and using an ability given to only few, we emboss those memories with invisible ink onto these objects. We can see the different time and place floating around these objects. We can pause from our work and admire our little treasures. We can press a play button in our mind and watch over and over again the memory associated. We can smile fondly or nostalgically at what it represents.
In this way, I feel unreservedly connected to my Papa. The next time I find an unusual figurine in a flea market or an oddly shaped pebble on the ground, I will not hesitate to pick it up, to examine it with careful gaze, to remember my Papa, who shares this gift with me.
I would like to close with a poem I wrote for my Papa for his 80th birthday:
Slowly he walks onto the stage of God,
Very quietly we sit and wait,
We wait for a story to be told,
A story of truth,
As he tells us of the Lords journey,
We feel the presence of the Lord listening,
When he is finished,
We sit in awe,
Finally, we stand,
Carrying the story in our mind,
As we walk, we talk to family and friends,
Laughing and smiling,
Prays, and helps people who need it.
The Preacher is my Papa.
My Papa the Preacher.