A note: This post frankly talks about cancer and death.
This autumn my dad asked me to start a project with him. I suggested we write letters to each other based on how he used to write me cards as a kid. We’ve sent a few back and forth. It’s been beautifully healing.
We’ve both agreed to share them publicly. We feel it may bring some insight for others.
This is letter ???
More may come. Who knows?
I've been struggling to write this letter for the last two days. I had hopes to write it yesterday, but I just kept getting lost in thoughts and had such a difficult time getting thoughts onto paper. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. It is so difficult to be so far away while you face growing cancer and the end of life. I so just want to be there with you right now. To comfort mom. To see my siblings, their spouses, and their kids. This all just fucking sucks.
You've written me a few letters since I last wrote you. You've talked about your childhood, bullying, finding yourself, raising me, wanting to know more about cosmology and other religions. I can feel the urgency in your writing, wanting to capture what you can before you can't remember or capture it any more. I am so appreciative of these letters, these little pieces I will forever be able to hold onto and cherish.
You're back in the hospital. COVID is raging across Minnesota and the United States. Further lockdowns have happened. Mom cannot even come and visit you. Getting information from your doctors can be confusing and a bit confounding in what used to be known as "normal times". Now, with healthcare overburdened it is downright taxing and flabbergasting. I'm glad you have great doctors that are trying their damnedest to figure things out and communicate them as best they can. Still, fuck. This is truly shit.
Amidst all of this shit and fuckery and distance and isolation, there are also moments of peace and serenity and serendipity and connection. I found one such moment laying on a bench yesterday in the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. It had been a long, emotional day, and I needed some rest. I also didn't want to be home. Home felt isolating. I needed sky and clouds and trees.
I laid there and looked up, saw the fog rolling in. It made my eyes squint and caused my head to ache just a bit. It was so bright! I closed my eyes and tuned out the entire world for 30 minutes. I don't think I slept as I don't remember falling asleep or waking up. But I wasn't there on the bench.
I was riding the fog back to Minnesota. The journey was filled with such delight and pleasure. It was as if each particle of water surrounded and protected me, cleansing me of any dis-ease. With every inch traveled, I became more free until my flight was a dance upon the clouds calling forth a rain to cleanse the lands of all illness and inequity. When I landed in Minnesota outside Methodist Hospital, there was no COVID. All had healthcare. And I was able to visit you along with mom, Samantha and Nate and Kayo and Kova, Jonathon and Sam and Remy, and Travis and Kait and Eden and Landon. Your siblings were there too. And while you were still in the hospital, we threw you a feast of feasts and invited all of the doctors and nurses and other patients to join us in a celebration of living life even in the face of immense pain and suffering.
There was so much laughter and joy. You told all your dad jokes, and everyone loved them. You spun tales that drew lines between people who didn't realize they were connected. Your memory of relations is something remarkable. You are always calling us to remember who we come from, and at this feast you showed how big the web is that connects us all. We are all of the people that made and make us.
Tears also flowed. Past regrets and misdeeds that had long been forgiven or healed or suppressed came back to the surface making everything a bit tender and bittersweet. There was an acknowledgement of the five to six years we did not speak because I needed space to heal and come to grips with who I really be. We've talked about this before, and in this dream it wasn't a rehashing of why that space was needed. Rather, it was an acknowledgement that because of that time and space taken then, we could be here and now and witness all of the shit and pain and fuckery along with all of the joy and laughter and family and simply let it be.
This feast of feasts was also a space for dreaming, and we dreamt of futures where Remy and Landon and Eden and Kayo and Kova all had their own grandkids. Our extended family was gathered in honor of you and mom and all of our ancestors that made our family possible. This future gathering had no physical space. Instead, it was virtual and in this virtual space we were able to bridge the distances traveled by our family: Sweden, Germany, Korea, Guatemala, San Francisco, Minnesota. Borders ceased to exist. We were / are simply family.
I opened my eyes, and I did not know where I was. I just saw fog and sky, and I smiled. My dream was all sooooo real. I could hear the laughter and the crying in the cackling of the crows circling above. Their raucous sound reminded me that I was in the Botanical Garden. I slowly got up, and walked through the gardens paying attention to the small details. Here's some of what I saw:
Image descriptions: three photos of what I described above. 1.) A photo of setting sunlight through leaves turning color. 2.) Yellow and pale green lichen on a dead branch. 3.) A small purple flower.
When you asked me about cosmology and other religions, I was unsure how best to respond. But as I write this letter, I am realizing that my understanding of the cosmos, of religion, of spirituality is tied mostly to this physical / material world. It is in the crows as they fly and caw their cacophonous song. It is in the setting sunlight spilling through dying leaves casting gold and shadow. It is in the mustard and smokey green lichen that transforms dead branches into life. It is in the tiniest of purple flowers that can only be truly experienced when you get on your hands and knees and really look at their delicate detail.
I've always been curious, and you always helped spark my curiosity. You've always asked questions more than you've demanded correct answers. I wasn't always able to hear the question, especially when I was a youth and young adult. I often took a question as a demand to explain myself. In my explanations, I would often get defensive because some of the questions you asked during my youth + young adulthood were about my identity as a queer. It is difficult to explain yourself when you don't really know yourself. I didn't know who I was back then. I now know who I be. I be your son, your child, your legacy.
Questions are what guide me, like they guide you. They are the tools I use to create and make almost everything I do and be. Questions, especially open ended ones, provide me a better view into understanding and cultivate my sense of empathy and justice and liberation. Questions and curiosity are my religious experience. They are the center of my cosmos.
Right now as I write these questions are emerging:
How do we live knowing the end of our days is approaching sooner than we desired?
Who are the loved ones who really know us and not just the facade we present to the outside world?
When will we finally rise up and demand more of our government and neighbors so that ALL have healthcare and homes and food and clothing and the space and time to create meaning and understanding and empathy and wisdom?
Why are we even here if we cannot care for each other and our planet?
I have no answers for any of these questions right now. And I am unsure I will have any answers before your time on this earth draws to a close. I so want to provide you answers, but I must sit instead in the unknown and unknowable. I must find ways to be at peace with uncertainty.
These letters help. You help. Our relationship helps. And regardless of length of physical time, we--you and me and everyone else--exist eternally within these letters, questions, stories, experiences. It makes the unknown, unknowable, and uncertain more bearable and a little less overwhelming.
When I can calm myself like I did on that bench in the Botanical Gardens, I dream. My dreams heal for they connect me to you, to our family, to our ancestors. They allow me to bring you and all our relations into the all that is possible, all that may be, the future. We have lived, live, and will always live. Death is not the end. It is a closing of a chapter.
What gets written next? Who knows?
I do know that you'll be there with me.
In deep love, admiration, and respect,
Your Son Jason
PS. I bought you two books -- Tao Te Ching, translation by Stephen Mitchell and The Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse edited by Jack Zipes. These two books are my sacred texts. They should be there in about a week. Love you.
Image description: A selfie of me sitting and watching the sunrise over the San Francisco Bay from the top of Mt. Davidson. I am gazing at the horizon. The waning moon is above my head and to the left. A dead tree branch is behind on the left. I went to watch the sunrise so I could snap photos for my mom, who has been supporting my dad through his cancer.
Image description: Sunrise over the San Francisco Bay from the top of Mt. Davidson. The waning moon is on the far right. Downtown San Francisco is on the left. The sun is rising in the center of the photo.