In a conversation with my daddy several months before he passed away, I watched as he allowed his mind to float back softly in time to 1920 when he was a wee lad of four. Life in San Francisco was simple and poor. Toys were of the make-shift kind, and the mind was creative with an over active imagination.
“Every Saturday, I would walk to the flat upstairs and ask to borrow Mr. Flanagan’s shovel. Then I’d take it to the yard and dig all day,” he began. Tapping his right index finger to his lower lip, a gesture he always did when deep in thought, he continued, “How I loved that shovel.”
First, I was shocked that he could remember that far back. After all, he’s ninety-five. I can barely remember what I did yesterday. But secondly, that he found such pleasure in a simple household tool.
“What were you digging for?” I asked, thinking what a cute picture that would have made.
“I just created holes. Then one day, I decided to dig my way to China.”
A sweet glint came to his fading eyes as he thought about himself; the quiet little boy with white blonde curls and his favorite toy, all alone lost in his daydreams.
“Wow, dad. How far did you get?” I questioned, giggling with him over the memory.
“I got all the way to my knees. Then I got tired.”
As we smiled at the memory, I began to think about all the times a shovel was a tool he needed to get through his day.
Life has never been easy for my dad. As the third child to Irish Catholic Immigrants, he grew up in poverty and responsibility was his middle name. He didn’t wake each morning thinking how he was going to have fun that day. Instead, he arose to wondering what he could do to best serve his family. This was an attitude that stayed with him into his adult years when he had a family of his own.
He found his joy in not personal pleasures but in excavating a rich family life. With his head down, he burrowed his way through the cost of private education for his four children, dug his way out of mounds of bills, and raked through the household chores to keep everything functioning smoothly.
He plowed through his poor health with dignity and grace and tilled the pitfalls of losing his wife, his mobility, and independence, learning to accept them one-by-one without a complaint or self-pity.
Now I watch my dad raking a path of prayer to meet his maker when the calling comes. Creating peace with the inevitable, he sleeps, meditates, talks to God, and smiles at his only daughter every time I enter the room. My father has never known ease. Every day had a challenge, but he faced each one with determination, shovel or trowel in hand, and drew from his quiet inner strength to rise above.
When John Madden leaves this earth, he will have left behind a beautiful garden in the hearts children and grandchildren. His example of a dedicated life of love and prayer has planted many seeds to help us grow into honest, productive and spiritual people. He spent nearly a century reaping. I pray I can be the flower he diligently sowed and always make him proud as I bloom in his honor.
We all have tools we rely on to enhance this journey we’re on. Mine is a pen and-and a piece of paper. What do you use?