My inheritance

Coastal redwood, University of Oregon North Quad, 2020


Approx. read time: 2:30 min

In the midst of my senior year of college my father dies, a man shriveled from thirteen years of multiple surgeries to relieve the pressure of a slow-growing inoperable brain tumor.

Being away at school, separated from family, I don’t really know how to grieve my way beyond his passing.

So I don’t really know how to respond when a check arrives from an insurance company, in the sum of $325.

My inheritance? 

I hardly know what to do with my tears, with my trembling, with the check itself.

In my hands I hold the ultimate memo: My father truly is gone. This check is my portion of all that remains.

These tears and trembling are evidence of a still tender wound of a still tender loss of a still tender man.

But what to do with the check? It is the sacred final-harvest fruit of a man who lived simply, in service to others as a barber. His customers loved him. Often on Mondays, his day off, he packed his travel kit and went to the homes of his long-time and now homebound, sometimes bed-ridden, customers. He’d give them a shampoo, a haircut, a shave, refresh them with a gentle pat of rose water.

Why? “Because they deserve to feel fresh, and look their best for their wives,” he’d say. He accepted no pay for these tender acts of mercy.

So this check for $325 feels more like a sacred document than an insurance company’s payout on behalf of a deceased client.

My true inheritance

The check is not the point. Yes, it sees me through some expense or other in my senior year of college.

What I discover, in the decades following, is that my father’s golden gift to me is his spirit of peace.

Peace, which I drafted from him on Sunday mornings, as I sat next to him in the pew, my upper arm gently pressed against his upper arm, as he prayed his prayers before service began.

Peace, which I witnessed again and again when an angry outburst could have been justified.

Peace, which overrode any urge to complain about his lot in life as his vital forces drained from his cancer-riddled body.

Peace is not a concept. It’s a way of being in the world, a way of inhabiting one’s lot. Peace is a way of inhabiting the interior tension of both living and dying, accepting with humility and grace the poverty of one’s finitude.

This is my inheritance, the immeasurably precious gift which my father bequeathed to me: Peace, tender mercy toward others, a tender, nonviolent engagement in life.

“How good God is,” he wrote from his hospital bed, in his shaky, handwritten 21st birthday letter to me, as he beheld a rainbow outside his window, nine months before he died. “How good God is to bless us with beauty and goodness and health.”

Words of a dying man. A simple, humble man journeying toward an early death is blessing God for beauty, for life.

This is my inheritance. I pledge to always honor it by living the same.

What inheritance has come to you? Who has blessed you with a portion of their spirit? Let me know.

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Be well. Live in peace. Love one another.

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