A Meditation on Mercy
By Michael Naylor, M.Ed, CCS, LADC, CCPC, ET
Copyright 2022, Version 2.0
My Father was a Type Six, demonstrating many of the tell-tale signs, a community gatherer, a devoted church-goer, a counter-phobic, anti-ego, fierce-as-hell competitor and humble team player, a life-insurance salesman making life safe and secure for everyone, a World War Two PBY navigator with a Purple Heart and Silver Star for risking his life in shark-infested water picking pilots out of choppy waters and surviving a bomb landing outside his tent in the Philippines, he near dead and strapped with back pain for the rest of his life; a rash and reactive big mouth when provoked or drunk, a deeply devoted dad with gnarly, rough edges, blind-spots that were gapping, a tender-hearted man, considerate and kind, a leader, and inspirer of disadvantaged boys, a follower, dependent on my mom, secretly very inferior, and brash in his own defense if you ever insulted him. Also, an alcoholic who recovered by the sheer and real threats of my mom: stop drinking or we’re done. He heard her.
She was his rehab.
I’m a Type Four kid, one who takes my experiences deep into my soul. Too deep at times. At age 4 I joyfully see my father sleeping on the couch in our living room, and in the rush of passion and heart-opening love for my father, run across the room and dive onto his sleeping carcass with joyful abandon and spontaneity and awaken a dragon who spanks me to my room, a beehive of pain burning my bottom, a knife of shame and rejection cutting through my heart. I will never approach my father with this spontaneous enthusiasm in my childhood. Shocking lesson learned! Like I said, I take things deeply. That is, I unwittingly built a small yet near-immortal cathedral to this event shutting down ‘sudden bursts of enthusiastic love’ for a time. Inner work and maturity would allow this structure to dissolve. Slowly.
My Type Six Father at His Best
I am 9 years old, standing outside of St. Charles church in Portland, Oregon. My father stands next to me in a black suit. He leans forward with eight other young men, eighteen and nineteen-year-olds, grabs the side of the casket, and lifts it overhead. My heart breaks at this moment. My beloved 19-year-old brother who I adore, tall and beautiful, jet black glorious hair, Billy-the-Kid bravado, lay inside the casket. This brother who has been the love of my life, who has treated me with such kindness, who has shown such radiant delight upon seeing me on his returns from the Navy, gone in a flicker—thrown like a cannonball through the windshield of his car, mercilessly dying at 2 AM on a black Oregon country road. Bleeding out in the pitiless arms of the Merciless Heropass. May 10, 1960. As my father lifts him up, his lips quiver and tremble with sorrow, tears brimming in his eyes. I have never seen my father’s valiant heart like this. Slowly my father and Peter’s eight Navy buddies—dark-suited and burdened by personal grief—proceed with the silver casket lifted overhead into the chapel, myself at my mother’s side, hand in hers, as I wander internally in the devastation of my brother’s death, a scene from 48 hours ago playing through me.
Quietly my dad slides the patio screen door open and looks out at me. On the patio I am reliving a momentous victory, heaving a baseball into the spacious sky, joyfully catching it and hurling it up again, the taste of a 7 to 6 victory for my Jefferson Standard baseball team an hour ago a jubilant fire inside me. The sky is brilliant blue, and the Sun a disk of celebration. At my core, the fever pitch of baseball streams through me. It’s in my veins, my blood, in my eyes, in my hands, in my muscle, in my soul—the baseball, the glove, the crack of the bat, the intercepting a ball cat-like in the mid-stream of its movement, the chant and rhythm of the game, the feel of the ball in the glove, the humming of the crowd, the inspired chatter of my teammates—all of this sings in my soul-stream. I was made for this game. Dad calls from the open patio door: “Mike, please come inside.” Moments later he greets me on the couch. I sit. Dad, deeply still, stiller than I’ve ever witnessed, granite kindness in his eyes, says to me, “Mike, your brother Pete was killed last night on his way home from the Naval base.” Tornado silence electrifies me. Gut gripping Silence. Silence that cuts like a blade into the softest crevices of my soul, the sacred place of kid-innocence within me.
I have no words. Suspended and hanging on the edge of this abyss-like moment.
I sit back on the couch staring into the wells of my dad’s grieving eyes and say nothing. And yet, resurrecting in this bone-chilling silence, in this crucible of Type Four depth, in this moment of I-have-no-words, are inner-silent-fierce-words. From the depths comes a clarion call, a manta prayer arising unbidden, ferocious, desperate, and repeats itself and repeats itself and repeats itself within me…”Peter, I love you. Peter, I love you. Peter, I love you.” It possesses me. This mantra. This rope of words. This call to God echoed in every fiber of my being, deep, sincere, urgent…”Bring him back! Bring him back! You cannot have him!” And then…the gravitational pull of the sorrow sucking me down, deep, into some strange, hidden, harsh chamber of grief and self-protection. I am closing down. Heart tensing, writhing, tensing, disappearing…gone…silent. Years later I will discover myself there. Huddled in the unnamable emptiness. Grieving. Stunned with life-shocking sadness. It is too much for this 9-year-old soul…this heart-rending yearning for my brother, Peter…yearning, yearning. A gaping hole blown in my soul. In this shuddering moment that mysterious plague of Type Four longing, of something missing in the core of my being, which has plagued me since I was three, has an object. Is a gravitational force. Inexplicably aches. And yearns. Is bottomless.
Peter. My brother, is the hole in my Type Four heart. Is the disconnect from the Beloved. From hope.
Two days later we enter the chapel, slowly proceed down the aisle, people in the pews watching, glancing. Compassionate eyes, shocked eyes…touch me. I look down at the floor. Ashamed of my sorrow, horrified by my grief. My shock is too visible, too naked. Then, the ceremony. In a foggy glaze, it passes. The sound of words, ebbing low and grave and sorrowful, the smells of death and grief, the incoherency of the moment, everyone ghostlike and lost. And yet I will remember this, feel this in my core, my father, his utter devotion and love for my brother, his commitment to being in this holy sadness completely and utterly as if my brother was still breathing, dad by his side, holding him as he passed. More than anything it is his presence, this solid ‘something’ of devotion that reaches me, that is implanted in me, a kind of unwavering, unshakeable courage in the darkest hour, cutting through the atmosphere of the chapel. Here he is Gandalf facing the Balrog in the mines of Morea, saying “You shall not pass!” Here he is Samwise Gamgee carrying Frodo to the fires of Mordor to eliminate the ring of power. His unstoppable, fiercely devoted, Type Six heart, is valiant, courageous…is going with my brother all the way home. I know this. I know my father’s devoted heart, it is in me now, in the cells of my being, in the sound waves of my voice, in the tidal stream of my passion, in the fire of my desires, my father. He is whispering in the silence of this grief, “My beloved son, Peter. I am with you. Come what may…always…with you. All the way home…with you.” Here, in this breathtaking moment, my father’s loyalty and commitment to my brother is like chiselled steel, honed in the furnace of his great losses. Here, the magnificence of the Type Six, the Valiant Hero, touches me. My beautiful brother Peter, hovering at this funeral sight, is held by my father. Is engraved with his love.
The ceremony concluded, we leave the pews. Dead men walking, shuffling. Almost out of the church a piercing wail rises in my 9-year-old-heart and bursts from me, myself gasping, throat gripped with a sudden sadness. Grief wrenches through me. Alive and harsh. Mom huddles around me, holding me as my innocent boy-tender-wails echo in the church silence, a piercing shrill. Oh, my beloved Peter, my beloved Peter, oh my brother…Peter, Peter, Peter…He’ my brother, my brother! You cannot have him, my heart screams. And there is my father, holding this shock with his attention, his stillness, giving it space, supporting me, not flinching…with me. A guardian at the gate of my horror. Devils meet me, eat me, devour my spirit. This cannot be avoided. But dad, here, all the way here in this merciless moment of loss. It is in these emergencies that an unshakeable stillness becomes him. Something deep and unwavering, he as his very best.
Two years later…I am sitting on my bed, heart-rending sorrow and disappointment my everyday companion. I have eaten the ghost of my brother’s passing. I am 11 years old. Through a complexity of emotional currents of confusion, my mind stream has gone crazy. Out of nowhere comes the thought Fuck the Virgin Mary…Fuck Jesus Christ…Fuck God. Unbidden, these declarations play through me. It has gone on for months and months, myself holding them as the darkest secret. If anyone knew! It is in stark contrast to my fervent desire to love God, to be good, to not sin, to be the best Catholic I can be, to be like the saint I emulate, Dominic Savio. But something has come loose inside me, and each thought equals the committing of a grave mortal sin, punishable by life in hell unless confessed before I die.
I confess daily.
I anticipate death.
On the streets. In the bathroom. At daily confession: Bless me, father. for I have sinned, I swore at God 40 times. I am going to hell. My best efforts cannot stop this brain mangled on sorrow. Resignation is sinking its teeth into me…at 11 years of age, I am succumbing to the belief that I will die and remain in the fires of hell for eternity. I am a disappointment to my mother, to my father, to my God. I am giving up. In my desperation, I reach out to my mother who immediately goes to my father. 7 pm. He kneels now at the side of my bed, myself crying in heartfelt despair, and says, “Son, you are not capable of any kind of sin that could send you to hell. You are not capable of this. You are having difficult thoughts. These are not actions. Mortal sins require actions.” With the kindest of eyes, he looks back at me. “Okay?” he asks, as he peers into my soul. I nod yes. Quietly, assured, he gets up and leaves my room. It will be years later that I will understand the roots of this madness, this giving up on life. The hopelessness. The pointlessness. The heart angst of this little guy, heartbroken, passionate, Four. A mind that cannot settle itself, that is gripped by a blasphemous mantra stream fueled by an imagination that makes all thoughts vividly real. A heart that cannot relax and trust in the grip of this inner movie.
The death of my brother is the gravestone in my heart. It has sent a signal to the surface of my being, Mayday, little boy overwhelmed with grief, overwhelmed with utter disbelief…finding its way into the Type Four imagination circuits of the mind that blares fuck god, fuck Jesus, fuck the virgin Mary and then hates himself for it. Only full-out expression of deeply felt sorrow will derail this beast of confusion that now possesses my perception of myself, that now possesses the thought and imagination stream of my monkey mind. To me, this is reality: vivid, turbulent, felt thoughts are actions. Thoughts are actions, images are actions. They are living, they breathe, they feel. They are no different than actions. That’s how it feels and even the solid love of my father cannot at this time penetrate the sin-trance that owns me.
Later I will learn that my father has planted a seed, has sunk something deep into me the soil of me that will blossom. Something solid and real and still. An inner knowing. Beloved Michael, you will find your way home. Easy does it. I have your back. Thoughts are not actions.
Tom Buxton is a kid from the poor side of northeast Portland, Oregon. And a student at St. Charles grade school, located at the edge of a poverty abyss. A student who has no happy home, no welcome by the Catholic school, and no astute teacher to pull forth his grace, his joy, his capacity, his self-worth. The school is often an emotional gulag, and tenderness and loving-kindness touch few of the classrooms. And poverty-stricken kids, kids who wear the same salt and pepper traced cords and mournful green sweaters to school daily, well, the wear and tear show the poverty. Etched like a tattoo on their being. Plus, the absence of parents. This little boy, Tom, walks home alone every night. The loneliness echoes in his stride, in the arch of his back. In the trail of emptiness that follows him. Lonely.
There are no happy traces of home that accompany him to school. But in 8th grade, my dad decides to coach the first baseball team St. Charles has ever had. A grade school baseball team, seventh and eighth graders—unheard of—playing other Catholic schools in the city! Word goes out and Tom Buxton shows up for practice. This is where the elegance of my father’s Type Six heart comes alive. He sees the capacity of a kid, sees where he’s hidden his gifts under a stone covered by a veil of shame, knows this suffering in a heartbeat because he feels the little-boy-in-himself who suffered from truckloads of poverty-shame and inattention in the city streets of Chicago. And he feels it in the soul of this kid, Tom Buxton, who beyond all hope of success has decided to try out for the baseball team. He’s accompanied by Jimmy Miller, a little boy also weighed down by poverty and a dad who is wildly alcoholic. He’s got the learned instincts of fast-quick-duck-the-incoming-blow reactions learned in the presence of his father, which makes him an awesome baseball player. And wandering out of the same poverty back-bushes, entranced by the vision of a baseball team, comes a rag-a-muffin-alcoholic-father-rage-terrorized-kid named Gary Yuskat, a little boy skittish with fast, razor-sharp, dagger-eyes trained to spot incoming danger in a nano-second. Lightening quick on his feet, nothing surprises him. Catlike quickness with an edge of violence. Both Jimmy and Gary wear shame coats covered with steely indifference and fierce, rebellious outcry. “Fuck you, don’t need you! You dare to humiliate me, and I will tear your heart out!”…covers their soul-crushing rejection. Don’t fuck with me, because my heart is so thoroughly broken that all is left are my killer instincts.
Dad, with the endearing, generous, engaging, warm curiosity of the Type Six, welcomes Tom. He’s like Tom Hanks on the ball field! Hey, young man, we’re all friends here! And in short time Tom Buxton relaxes; it’s as if he arises from a strange casket of invisibility, and next thing I know this kid is swinging the bat so happily filled with the love of baseball that he’s a resurrected-joy-machine. Grinning, laughing, bouncing like an Irish Setter. And fast—runs like a deer, can track down fly balls in centerfield like a gazelle, is quick, fast, alert, has an arm like a rocket, and can steal bases anytime, anywhere. And he loves my father. Adores my father. It’s a damn miracle. Tom comes strolling to the ball field, upright, alert, happy like a kid should be, and shouts out “Hey, Mr. Naylor, how are you today!”
He approaches my father easier than I do. And my dad, thrilled at the sight of Tom, welcomes him. And then proceeds to unfold the hearts of Gary Yuskat and Jimmy Miller such that these two vagabond, raised-on-fear-and-hatred-and-rejection, these sweet boys begin to exude a kind of self-worth that taps them into their instinctive capacity to play baseball, to love baseball, to be a part of a team, to be teammates. To belong, like little boys should belong. And these two are scrappers, fighters, never-say-die-ballplayers who just needed a little kindness to call them out of hiding. And once out they are all in, devoted to my dad, devoted to his every word. Acceptance is a powerful medicine and my father’s Type Six devotion to embracing these boys, to giving everyone a chance, to welcoming them, making room for them, these potent kindnesses towards these otherwise fringe-dwelling-homeless-in-their-hearts tender boys, has taught us all to be kind to one another. We see it. We do it. And we become an awesome team!
Everyone counts and is valued on dad’s ball field! He does what the Type Six can do, welcomes and calms them down, includes them, finds the place where they fit, tenderizes the fear running rampant in their hearts—and creates the amazing glue of teamwork. (This is the devoted heart of the Six, each breath circling around and through fear, and in turn, does whatever he can to make sure no one is fearful.) We are one mind here, and all are welcome. Without saying it but being it. And before you know it my dad has woven together a team, a team where all are equal, where there are no favorites—not even his son. A team that plays baseball passionately and with that instinctive intelligence that arises between players when they know that they are cared for, loved, and appreciated. Then magic happens. When the chips are down, when the precise alertness that is needed to call forth a double down the third base line that scores the runner from first base in the bottom of the ninth inning ‘arises,’ seemingly ‘happens’ out of the magic of the moment.
This is the mystery of the game such that a team coalesces and performs miracles and the psychic glue of comradery and kindness calls forth unseen loving forces. And when that flow is ignited—stand back and bow to the holy unfolding of miracle plays. In the flow of this grace, Tom Buxton, with his cannon arm is cutting down a runner at the plate with precision accuracy, his soul afire with the love of baseball, he lit up with dad’s Type Six inspired awareness. Then Gary Yusket, all 5-foot one inch of him, has stolen second and third and crossed home on a short-passed-ball, he lightening on wheels. Followed by Jimmy Miller unleashing a triple into deep left-center, knocking in two runs. With the force of my father’s support running up and down their spine, they become what they were made for. They experience a rare sense of inner knowing and confidence, injected by the Type Six heart and intuition of my fearless father, as if he knew in advance what they were capable of, and simply assumed it. He too, having eaten and drank fear as a boy, is an expert on seeing it, taming it, transforming it.
Healthy, radiant Type Sixes are valiant heroes who inspire heroics in others. Who help a boy to feel that innate quality of confidence arising in his core, knowing and feeling his capacity, awake and alert for the unforeseen possibilities. Ready, here, now for what arises. A team wired on this perceptive consciousness gets prescient, leaning into the next moment with fire, passion, courage, intuitive wizardry. It’s a thing of beauty! Ragtag Gary Yuskat arises in his power, all five feet one of him, fierce courage emanating from his being, daring anyone to challenge him. And then, wide awake with presence, he sees the pitched ball, its line of descent, in a split-second, wrists snapping, he executes, precision swing lacing a single that rips past the shortstop like he knew he was going to do it. Knew it. Just knew it.
In the wake of my father’s generosity of spirit, we win the city championship, undefeated. The final game is a 7 to 0 victory, my lazy-looping-curve-ball so evasive and precise and untouchable, nicking inside and outside corners, the grace, grit, and love of my teammates riding and informing every pitch. Trust me, it is the consciousness of ‘we’ that guides each pitch. At our best, we become one being. And this is the true joy of sports, this oneness of being, this uniting the souls of a team. Then a quality of inner knowing proceeds, and right time, right moment, precise and precious execution of bat to ball ensues. Timing, teamwork, impossible plays enter the intuitive union of spirit and soul creating a field of intelligence and creativity that is a joy to behold.
This so represents the intuitive intelligence of a Type-Six-inspired team.
This demonstration of kindness, support, commitment to all, courageous perseverance in the face of terrible odds—empowering homeless kids to sense their capacity—teaching us that everyone is welcome—exuded by my father’s presence—touched me at depth. Shaped me. Loved me. He embodied the devoted heart of the Type Six, the one laying foundation and support for everyone, the one holding space for others to feel safe enough to arise, the one injecting this mysterious confidence into boys whose souls had been shame-broken way too often, and way too early. The father force.
This is the heart and soul of the Six, encouraging, fiercely supporting all, fiercely laying the psychic glue of teamwork into the fabric of this lived experience. Here we have the best of the father force, the best of the Six, the force of deep support, that holds ground for an individual’s shame, fear, anxiety, providing an often-unseen rock of intuitive stability amidst rocky waves of unpredictability. That allows everyone to settle and then, arise in their glory, face their fear, respond with clarity and skillfulness in the moment of most importance, when the chips are down, when self-consciousness and fear would disrupt the flow of graceful action. In its place—clarity, confidence, uncanny knowing. And to play like a team, a one-minded being of unitive intelligence–the deepest joy of boyhood sports. You see, Dad knew stuff in advance but rarely spoke it.
I watch Mr. Lee Hilderman walk past the front of our house on 37th Avenue in Portland, Oregon. He’s built low to the ground, with a perilously bulging belly, dressed clumsily, he is a disheveled 40-year-old in a fog of torment. (He looks like he could hurt you if he got his hands on you, in fact, a target for his rage would satisfy him.) Mostly he’s at war with the demons in his soul. There is a bristly swagger to his gait, and expletives fly like small explosives from his mouth, he raging at some ghost or imaginary person. He is a soul-eaten, miserable, sick drunk, an alcoholic who periodically cuts a path of fear through the neighborhood. Nobody talks about it. Everyone stays indoors. The neighborhood looks away. I am 11 years old and my gut turns. This is my friend, Terry Hilderman’s dad. Terry, who joins us in the in-the-street softball games, the one most likely to hit the long home run before he is called by his father’s harsh razor voice, to Come home now! He lives scared too, and I can feel the recoil of terror in his belly as he turns away from me and heads home, a flush of terror in his eyes. It is a sad, terrified, resigned walk back to his gulag, back to the prison of his heart-breaking childhood, where he watches his mother beaten by the hands of his furious dad, where he digs deep to resurrect joy, or hope, or at least hone a steely resilience until he can leave this hell-hole.
I am riding my bike past Terry’s house, which is, in fact, about 40 yards from my home. From inside Terry’s house come screams, merciless, terrified, innocent, and startled little boy screams, followed by crying and heart-wrenching wailing, gasping-sad-shocked sounds like a siren call of horror. It’s the slaps that turn my stomach. Thick throughout Terry’s sounds is the hateful voice of his father. Cruel. Vengeful. Sadistic pleasure in being the Punisher. My skin crawls, and terror rises in my chest. Terry is being beaten. No one can save him. I shudder inside, unable to comprehend the why of it. Horrified, I continue riding home. Fear squirms throughout my body. What kind of world is this? I don’t tell my mom. Too scared. Something inside Terry’s house is terrifying, and I want nothing to do with it, nor do I want my mom exposed to it.
Only on two occasions do I go to Terry’s house and ask for him. His mother answers the door. She is small, five-foot-one and she is utterly kind—her Type Two Heart touching me, yet in her aura is that vigilant intuition that says she fears for her life every day, lies low, tries to stay under the radar. Eyes in the back of her head, she watches everything, every move, her eyes a lighthouse of awareness looking for sudden tsunami waves. She lives as a battered woman, a hostage, her mission in life, to save Terry from his beatings. (She is so kind that it hurts my heart. God have mercy on her and her merciful heart.) She moves with utter caution, speaks with utter caution, not wanting to wake up the hidden dragon who sleeps curled up in the arms of his alcoholism, his hair-trigger rage a breath away. One wrong sound and hell is upon her. One wrong sound…. This is the terror my friend Terry is submerged in. How he manages to be so kind, so considerate, so friendly is beyond me, he much like his tender-hearted mom.
And then, one miraculous summer day, Terry saunters up to me and says, “Guess what, Mike. I’m on your baseball team. Your dad asked me to join and I said yes.” He is smiling, a joyful little-boy-light in his eyes, happy for a moment to be a boy who’s going to play baseball. You see, dad is like an undercover agent. He’s snuck a conversation past his Lee Hilderman’s booze-flustered-mind, past his I-hate-humanity-heart, past his my-son-will-suffer-like-I-do-so-help-me-god insanity, and squeezed a yes out of him. As in, “I give my permission for Terry to play on your team.” And like dad does, he’s got another convert. This boy, Terry, who’s dodged so many hateful bullets, who’s eaten and digested hatred and rage from his father, still, God bless him, radiates a spark of joy in him. (Never, in all my days around him, has Terry complained about his fate. He’s hidden the knife buried deep in his heart with such skill that no one knows his reality.) And today, he is wide-eyed, a liberated kid, anticipating joy on the ball field, living in his first field of dreams with a coach who wants him on his team, who wants him in his company, who welcomes him as a fellow player, a part of a tribe, who gets to play on his first baseball team ever, Peter’s Office Supply.
Terry becomes a fierce third baseman, where line drives like bullets are launched with sizzling speed out of the nowhere of a swinging bat, and Terry is like steel, unflinching, and sees the bullet coming and is on it, cat-like instincts and the courage of a lion making him unstoppable, as in no ball gets past him no matter hard it’s been drilled at him. Hell, he’s trained for this. Eleven years with his tormented, unpredictable father-eaten-by-alcoholism-rage-assaults on his boy’s soul, well, this baseball whizzing at him at light-speed is a piece of cake. He does not flinch, and this is a very good thing when you are a third baseman. And he so loves this game, and in these precious moments loves being a boy and celebrates the miracle of just being a kid. Hanging loose, playing the game, being a boy without a care for a few moments.
Twice a week he happily plunks his body in the back seat of our car, ready to rock and roll, eyes gleaming with waves of joy. Everything in his body, heart, and soul says yes, this is for me. This is precisely what I want to do with this summer day. A kind of relaxed yet glorious peace holds him, the peace of my father’s unwavering, your-a-friend, support. Terry feels secure and this security allows him to relax for once, to breathe for once, to be held in the embrace of my dad’s beloved kindness. Because that’s what dad does as a Type Six. He endears you to him. He befriends you. He slides up next to you and disarms you, knows exactly where you are filled with fear and anxiety, and calms you down. Chills you out. And then, when you’re still bathing in the joy of your anxiety-relief, taking a deep breath of ‘calm’, he invites you in as a comrade in arms, to join the team, to join this tribe of boys, boys loving baseball, boys conspiring to win a championship, ordinary no-big-deal-boys high on his welcome. And high on belonging.
So, the angry, blindly suffering, sometimes malicious, soul-tortured drunk armed to the gills with resentment is disarmed, lowers his guns as dad stands in his cross-hairs, as dad’s contagious team spirit, his fear-calming-Jedi-master-trick of nothing to worry about here, it’s safe, just relax–calms and tenderizes Lee Hilderman’s heart. Dad, who grew up with a raging father, who ducked enough bullets of hatred to kill Godzilla, is masterful with soul-suffering alcoholics. And he does it with that crazy-wise Tom Hanks type Six humble-grit-and-humor-and-contagious humanness. And next thing you know, Terry plays the whole summer season with us, a happy third baseman with a brimming, sun-splitting smile, so gratefully appreciative for playing baseball on this day. Saying repeatedly to dad, “Thank you, Mr. Naylor, for inviting me to play on this team. I’m not that good but thank you for having me.” And he means it, man, means it with all his heart.
This was the legacy of my Type Six dad. Heroic in ways that truly counted, he always working on the inside of kid’s hearts. An unsung hero needing no applause, never bringing attention to his efforts, the joy of kids high on baseball was his deepest pleasure and reward. True heroism, feisty and courageous when needed, and so skillful at disarming the anxiety of boys. However, you would not want to be on the receiving end of his wrath if you were an umpire who had blown a call. Dad had laser eyes and bad calls were his nemesis. And here his Jedi capacity to disarm did not apply. Here you died under the scrutiny of dad’s precision awareness. Then, his team had been dealt an injustice. Then, his commitment, loyalty, passion for his team was channeled into his skewering of the umpire.
I am sitting on the bed with my father, as the priest begins the last rites. It is twenty-four hours away from my father’s passing and my eyes are held captive on my father as he prays, his every word reverberating in my core, he planting a final message, a final impression in the depth of me. On this edge of death, he is staring over the cavernous cliff of his mortality, and with the utmost sincerity and devotion, dad says, “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be they Thy Name…” with the priest and myself in sync. Each word is a reverent gesture to the Divine. An invisible barrier has dissolved, and nothing separates him now. His prayer rivets me with its authenticity, a palpable quality of translucence surrounding and pouring through him. It’s the same mysterious translucence I felt yesterday when outside, he was gliding around in his electric wheelchair in the brilliant, August, Oregon sun. And, stopping at the edge of the parking lot and gazing into space, communing with the invisibility, and then turning and driving straight up to me and gazing into my eyes, looking at me from a vast place of mysterious stillness, an uncommon depth in his gaze. A last wordless transmission.
And now he prays with such reverence, commitment, and devoted love. In his words I feel the strength of his deep commitment to me running through his time with me, his love for me, his wish for the best for me, he often the guardian at the gate of my misunderstandings. His devoted heart rings from his depths. In my mind’s eye I am hearing the words of Samwise Gamgee to Frodo, “Mr. Frodo, we can’t give up. We must go on,” sincere love in his voice as he lifts Frodo, deranged from the impact of the ring, onto his shoulders. This is my father, now, reminding me, carrying me in his heart one last time, carrying me in the words of the Our Father, imprinting me with his sacred commitment, his Type Six devoted heart, all in, all in, reminding me that at stake here is our connection with God. We can’t give up. We must go on. All the way home. All the way.
He is saying goodbye. Leaving me this last trace of him, to be moved and guided by. A holy transmission.