“There shall always be love.”
That buzzed my ear one sticky, summer night … after my father … the college professor … got a little rickety with some other dads … down on the beach. A little too wobbly … after over-sipping.
He wasn’t much of a beach guy … or a water guy. He’d never catch a tan on purpose … knew nothing of fishing … and he never took a swim. Not a real swim.
He’d stand in the water … like John the Baptist … and swish his hands around. And that was that.
He was a city kid. But he bought us a lake house … and an idyllic childhood.
With lots of boy adventures … BB guns and water skis and motor boats … all the things he never had. Things we took for granted.
I was weaving with him … up the hill … to deliver him home. Noisy cicadas and the distant hum of boat motors made for a queer summer symphony.
I could hear the sand on the black-topped road grind under his sandals. That was an unusual sound because we went barefoot all summer long … from Sunday to Sunday. Jumped into shoes only for God … a forty-five minute penance.
It was such an unusual walk … being in charge of the chief of the tribe. Gripping his upper arm … but trying like hell to make it seem like … like this was sort of usual. Not so odd. The kind of thing slightly rowdy buddies might do.
But the last thing my father was … was my buddy.
Even though I’d just sneaked into teenagehood, it did seem to be a ”child is the father of the man” moment. An eye-opening role reversal. One that put me on a different kind of alert.
During the shuffle up the hill … he stopped … and looked straight through me.
“There shall always be love.”
Delivered in perfect diction. As in a theatre.
I was used to that sort of drama. Those out-of-the-blue avowals … about lots of things … like marriage or honor or bravery. Or caritas.
Unusual word. But I’d heard it a lot. But never a definition. Unraveled it in the context of sentences and statements … and short sermons. No other father ever used it. But no other father was as unusual as mine.
And it dawned on me … that he wasn’t as groggy … or as soggy … as I’d thought. That maybe I’d been played. Conned into this trek up the hill. For a reason.
“All other things might run away from your life … but there will always be love. That is the one forever thing. The true thing. Because it lives where it cannot leave … inside you.”
Unusual to you. Not to me.
This was my father.
We got heavy-doses of the heavy stuff regularly. And this … it seemed … was just my turn. My caritas booster-shot … to ward off the numbness that separates us from each other … whether we know one another or not.
And these impromptu whispers were always just right for your age … and maybe a situation he noticed. The older you were, the heavier the drop. And this … to me … this seemed … I dunno … maturish. Grown-up. Adulty.
And I was smile-pleased … because it moved me into a different league … alongside my older brothers.
So the slow-walk was on … and the evening lecture, too. Even the cicadas seemed to shut up.
“There are different levels of love.”
And I nodded as if I’d thought about that for a few years already … but … of course … I’d never given it a thought. Not ever. Because I was thirteen. And thirteen-year-old boys do lots of things … musing is not one of them. Trust me.
“There’s the love that takes away your balance … and puts helium in your head … so you go dreamy.”
A-ha! That was it! He’d caught me.
On the beach. Being the peacock. Strutting … and rutting … for the attention of the young lady here for her summer vacation.
“That’ll happen lots of times. But you know that, right?”
Now that was an outright appeal to my supposed common sense … and the maturity that was still in the mail somewhere. A clever ploy … a teacher ploy … to get me to focus even more.
He’d just told me … be on guard. Keep my balance. Young love has lots of test-drives. Wear a belt. Mind yourself.
And I thought … I thought that was the lesson. The faint, slightly ingenious, round-about bit of caution for a 13 year kid suffering from hormone havoc.
I was wrong. As usual.
This man … this father … would never let any son get away that easily.
“And then … then there is the greatest love of all. The highest love. The most powerful.”
And I’m thinkin’ … here it comes … the riddle stuff. The challenge.
“Do you know what that love is, young Denis?”
And just like that … he was in total charge. Not-so-wobbly at all.
And I … I had nuthin’ … because I was still thinking of the girl back on the beach … in the bathing suit made of cocktail napkins.
Then he gripped my arm. And flipped the moment on me.
“Always look for the weakest. The under-dog. The person facing the longest odds. Find them … and make them your mission.”
No … I didn’t know that … and I’d never given it a moment’s thought.
But now I had no choice. And before I could uncork my brain … he chanted a litany of all the advantages I didn’t even know I had … from boats to private school to a summer house … and a unique family.
From good health and lots of food to perfect teeth …. and maybe a girlfriend in a pretend bathing suit.
And then … the commandment.
“You will … forever … look after those people, will you not? And always champion those not as advantaged as you? And provide more of yourself to them than to any others, right?”
Then came the voodoo moment. The scary stuff.
“And that … that is caritas.”
Of course! He’d done it again.
Two lectures for the price of none … and a free mind-reading.
The first lesson was to be cool with the bikini babe … and keep my balance … be aware. The second was more cerebral … heavier. But easy enough … because the lecture was so perfect.
And we sat on the porch … on a red wicker sofa we painted every spring … for several minutes … letting the cicadas back into the moment.
Then I stood … and smiled … and so did he.
And I went back to the beach. To strut some more.
And class was over.
This’ll go well with your coffee … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yERildSsWxM