“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.” St. Francis of Assisi
“The shadow of your smile, when you are gone, will color all my dreams and light the dawn. Look into my eyes, my love and see all the lovely things you are to me.” Songwriters Johnny Mandel/Paul Webster, “The Shadow Of Your Smile” lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management
His father was turning seventy and he was literally scrambling for the most clever and appropriate surprise to provide to mark this wonderful and yet overwhelming occasion. Theirs was a unique relationship, as so many are. They did not spend that much time together, yet, if you were to ask either of them, it was as if they talked every day, and perhaps they did, in a spiritual, almost mysterious sort of way. When they would gather for a quick lunch or an occasional steak dinner at one of their favorite “mom-and-pop” steak houses that looked more like an abandoned laundromat, they laughed quite often at the way they would finish each other’s sentences.
As a father of four himself, he had understood and accepted the awesome responsibilities of parenthood and on this particular day, he was walking into a dental office with his youngest son, who by far was the most extensive patient and costly of all his four children. Perhaps, he was also the least appreciative. As he stepped inside, the aroma of the office assaulted him. It was the smell of the toothpaste-cleansing materials, the sterilized dental equipment mixed in with the freshly washed floors and polished sinks which created that mysterious scent associated with all dental offices. Slowing down, he took a deep breath, clouded his eyes, and was transported back to his youth, to the first time he went to the dentist’s office with his dad. He did not know what braces were when he first heard the word, but he would never forget them after that. His teeth were in horrible need of costly work that already begun to inhibit him to hide the smile that was growing alongside the rest of his body.
One thing was for sure, there was going to be a whole lot of sacrifices to be made to make this work. But he was still a kid and could not appreciate all the ups and downs of keeping a family financially afloat. Then came that one day after school that he came home early and walked down the hall in their modest house and heard his parents talking. His mother seemed a little upset with his dad, and then he heard his name mentioned. They were not really fighting but for a small kid, it just sounded like he was the reason for an argument. This dental expense was not “absolutely” necessary and because of struggling times, there was this thought floating between them that maybe he could get his own teeth worked on when he arrived into his adult years. But his dad would not hear of it. He was going to sell a few prized collector’s items, pick up a second job doing security work at the nearby mall, and that would be it.
Here was yet another example of what Mother Teresa meant when she said that we need to give until it hurts. That young man, wise beyond his years, realized the sacrifice his father was about to make for him and he could still remember that night moistening his pillow with his tears, tears of pure joy that he had a father who loved him so much and would practically do anything for his happiness. He made a silent but powerful promise to God that he would never forget him for it. For the next couple of years or so, his dad would call out to him whether they were outside working on the yard, at the supper table, or maybe coming back from the gas station, and then flash this playful, Cheshire-cat type of wide-grin, and say the same thing each time: “You see, everything always works out!”
Now as an adult with his own growing family, he found that these were challenging days, maybe even a little on the dark side. Everything seemingly was falling apart for him as he began to witness some of his dreams go up in smoke. He just could not catch a break, and all the while he did not want to worry his father who was equally growing anxious about his son’s anxiety levels affecting everything from his marriage to his appreciation of the man he had become. However, the biggest test of faith and family was about to be served to both men. His father had asked him for a ride to the doctor’s office so they could grab a steak afterwards. There was an unusual quiet during the relatively short ride to the medical center, and it seemed that both had much weighing on their minds, first for themselves, then for the other.
After waiting almost an hour, he witnessed his dad step out of the doctor’s office as if he had just put gas in the sedan, with nothing seemingly out of the ordinary. He provided the copay and the two walked out of the clinic and got in the vehicle. Right away, there was something very wrong that made that deep aching pain in the stomach so much worse. “Let’s go,” his dad said and with that his son knew something was very wrong. They drove for a while in silence, and his son knew that his dad would tell him what was wrong in his own way. They took the long way to the little restaurant, and as they drove down past their old house, the baseball field where they made such wonderful memories, and of course, their old dentist’s office, the older of the pair started talking about life and the memories each place helped to create. That’s when the younger man knew his dad was dying. They looked at each other and nodded. No words, as usual, were needed. They understood.
And there it was again, that smile. The smile that says what words can hardly convey between the souls that truly have been placed on this earth for each other. Sometimes it is in marriage, sometimes great friends, and sometimes, in the most amazing of moments, between those who are called fathers and sons. Under the shadow of that smile, great things grow. And they grow into a gift that is not only hard to describe or put into words, but also impossible to share without breaking down in a pool of cathartic tears. This is the story of so many who live and move and have their being walking around us every day. Perhaps we know their stories and most likely, we do not. But they are there. And wouldn’t be just a little gift we could give to ourselves today, deserved or not, that at the end of our lives, when we open our eyes after this earthly journey is completed, we could hope to see the face of Jesus. Of course, he is smiling. And what do you think he’ll say?
“You see, everything always works out!”
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“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” Erma Bombeck