August 2017

All things at once

I feel as if I have become both the Samaritan, caring for my dad, and the man fallen to thieves, so alone, powerless and vulnerable, writes Victoria McGlynn. Is it possible to be both at once?

BY Victoria McGlynn

When I think of my dad, I see a rainbow. His wardrobe staples include bright lemons, Christmas reds, and colourfully embroidered shirts. I used to think his fashion sense was embarrassing, but as I’ve grown older, I find it endearing.

I’ve seen him in an array of hospital gowns too. Pale blue, slime green, and most recently, soft lilac. In the oncology unit, the gown hangs off his shrunken frame.

“Hi, dad.”

“Hi, precious.”

I want to fling my arms around him, but instead hug him gently. He looks so fragile. Not like my dad at all. I’ve come straight from work after he’s relayed his diagnosis. We sit side by side, dazed, watching television for two minutes or two hours, I’m not sure. Time stretches and congeals like warm toffee.

“Looks like it might rain.”

“It does.”

Usually, we’d be talking a million miles a minute, but today we talk about mundane things. Anything to avoid talking about the real thing. Finally, I can’t stand it anymore.

“Why does God let bad things happen?”

“Well…” dad sighs. “There’s a few ways to think about it…”

He tells me about light and darkness, how God is like the light, and that darkness isn’t really a thing of itself, but the absence of light. A dark room might seem dark, but there is still light, even if you can’t quite see it. He tells me that God works in mysterious ways, and that I need to trust His plan.

Late at night when I leave, I feel buoyed with this knowledge. As I’m at the bus stop figuring out which route to take home, I forget momentarily that dad has been diagnosed with leukaemia for the second time and given three to six months to live.

For days I keep the secret buried inside me, afraid to reach out, or unable to. A part of me thinks if I don’t speak the words, it might not be real. I call dad in the mornings and on my lunch breaks. I visit him every afternoon and bring him fresh organic food to entice him to eat and keep up his strength.

I reflect on the parable of the Good Samaritan and feel as if I have become both the Samaritan, caring for my dad, and the man fallen to thieves, so alone, powerless and vulnerable. Is it possible to be both at once?

About two years ago, coincidentally, dad and I moved to Brisbane within three months of each other. Him, for retirement, and me, for work. It still amazes me how much we operate on the same wavelength. The rest of our family and friends live in Sydney. They feel so out of reach, they could be on another planet.

Since receiving the news, I have trouble falling asleep. I think about all the moments in my life to come that dad will miss: walking me down the aisle, meeting his grandchildren. One night I clutch my chest, struggling to breathe. I’ve had panic attacks before, but each time they come, they always feel like the worst I’ve ever faced. No matter how much air I suck in, I can’t breathe. When it passes, I get out of bed, moving quietly so as not to wake my housemates. I lie on the couch, facing the cushion, hoping the change of scenery will distance me from my toxic thoughts. It doesn’t.

You have a duty to your dad to be strong, says the voice in my head. Stop being a child. Deal with it.

Unkind thoughts sledgehammer me. I call myself names and salt my most tender wounds. All the while I cry silently. When the tears do not stop, I realise I am powerless, and pray for God’s help. I tell him I’m not sure how He can help me, but please, I pray, please.

Minutes pass. I begin to think perhaps He hasn’t heard me. Then, a door in the house creaks open. It’s dark, but I can make out the shape of my housemate, zombie-shuffling across the floorboards. It reminds me of my dad’s explanation of a dark room being not as dark as you think. My housemate could sleep through an earthquake and usually never wakes during the night.

“Who’s that?” he asks.

“It’s just me.”

Although I try to keep my voice neutral, he knows something is wrong. He comes to my side and opens his arms to me. The gesture makes me break down again. I cry oceans on his shoulder until finally, the tears dry up. I manage to take a few deep breaths without my throat catching. I find my voice, and ask why he woke in the middle of the night.

“I just got really thirsty all of a sudden,” he says.

I realise being comforted by someone was exactly what I needed when I was unable to comfort myself. It was not a coincidence. To me, it was a small miracle. After I thank my friend and return to bed, I say a prayer of thanks to God before falling into a deep, peaceful sleep.

When I arrive at the hospital to pick up dad, he’s dressed in a bright red shirt, standing out like a beacon. The way his familiar face and hazel eyes light up when he sees me warms my heart. When we hug in greeting, I realise I am not only being the Samaritan for him, but he for me too. Love and kindness do not flow in one direction.

When we are cruel, we are often cruel to ourselves. The passers-by, ignoring our soul’s need for love and compassion. The robbers, robbing ourselves of dignity and kindness. When we are kind, we are kind to our neighbours and to ourselves. The Samaritan, caring for those less fortunate. When we are helpless, we must turn to God, open our hearts and trust in His ways. We are not always one thing or the other. We are all things at once.

This article was awarded first place in The Good Oil 2017 Young Writers’ Award, post-school (18 to 35 years) category.

Victoria McGlynn

Victoria McGlynn is a writer, editor and devoted mini-foxi enthusiast living in Brisbane. When not at her desk hunched over her keyboard, you might find her camping in the bush, tucked away somewhere with a book in her lap, or out of breath in the park, trying to keep up with her furry BFF Monty.

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