In Sweet Company

“… for me, spiritual practice is making the bed, defrosting dinner, and so on. It’s not magical or removed; it’s about how I discover and reveal myself as I do things that are ordinary.” — Miriam Polster, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

One Saturday afternoon when I was eight, when the last sun of Autumn bleached the sidewalks of Detroit a pale gray, I drove with my Dad, a mechanical and electrical engineer, to the home of a longtime client whose sputtering furnace was in need of immediate repair. Dad was doing the man a favor coming out to his house on a weekend. He invited me to assist him in this kindness.

I remember walking the cement driveway that led to the back the house, the tufts of brown grass that grew in the cracks in the concrete. Dad rapped on the sliding glass door off the patio. The man slid the door open, greeted him warmly, and ushered him inside. I turned to follow him into the house. “You stay here, honey, and play on the patio,” he said, “while I go down into the basement and look at this thing. I won’t be too long.”

I sat on the patio and followed a trail of red ants with my eyes. I watched the wind spin leaves around the yard. I found a good stick. After a while the patio door slid open and my Dad walked outside. He was very quiet. Stilted. Almost wooden. I looked into his face. There were tears in his eyes.

He averted my gaze and walked back down the driveway toward the car. I ran after him, struggling to keep pace. When I caught up to him I grabbed his thick, freckled hand. I tried to comfort him. I also wanted to know what had made my Daddy cry.

When we reached the car, he opened the passenger door and I climbed onto the seat. I looked at him, into his eyes, and he sighed. “It used to be that a man’s handshake could be trusted,” he said. He closed the door, walked around the car and slid behind the wheel. We drove quietly home.

The value of a promise. A father’s tears. A daughter’s standard. In these ways, I honor my father.

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