The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for February, 2024

Worth Rescuing

The details of the phone call are fuzzy from 6 decades of recovering from it. I was at one end, in the background, explaining my position and opinion as only a distressed 6-month old can. My maternal grandmother spoke into the receiver. At the other end, most of the way across the country, was my father.

The essentials of the call were simple. I was in Denver with my grandparents, left there for keeping by my mother who was now somewhere in Texas, mostly incommunicado. My dad was in Ohio, still recovering from a head injury from an Air Force accident and an extended hospital stay, and wondering where I was. It had been like this for weeks. Information was hard to come by in the early 60s, and it had taken this long for my Grandmother to find him. But now she had found him, and well, he was a man of action.

Her message was relatively short: my mother had been telling Grandma she was coming to get me, but well, it hadn’t happened and still wasn’t happening. And in her opinion, my dad would be the better parent. Grandma wasn’t one to mince words or opinions.

If there had been fast-forward buttons back then, he would have mashed one to the precipice of its existence, but instead, he put on his best dress uniform, found himself a plane ticket, and flew to Denver. We flew back together to Indianapolis, where his own grandparents lived. My short and tumultuous life restarted.

A six-month-old infant doesn’t understand the ins and outs of complex relationships, the twisted pain of knowing, but not knowing why things go the way they do. But in some essential way, in an observation set down deep in what was then yet an empty pool for memories to be collected and sorted later, I knew in an unforgettable way who it was that came to rescue me.

Eventually, as we lived with my great-grandparents, I realized they too, were taking part in the operation. A year later my step-mom joined the mission and became forever after “Mom”.

But Dad has always been for me, in a mental landmark somewhere near the beginning of my memory, the point man of the mission. He was the one who first decided I was worth rescuing.

I felt this then, back in my infancy. What I knew was there was that one guy, who came back. I felt it subconsciously all through my childhood. Many things in life were complicated, painful, and out of place for me, but I always had that lighthouse to pilot by, when rejection was all around me, I knew one person had proven beyond all doubt that he thought I was worth rescuing.

Much of my life has been spent knowing that I am, in some unfathomable and difficult way, different than those around me. I’ve received well-deserved (I suppose) rejection from most people, people who don’t want to understand “different “, whose attitudes created a sarcastic, cynical humour, and then who found that even more offensive. But there remained that one point of light, that one person who knew how I was, and perhaps a bit about why.

Last week, that point of light fell and broke his hip. I understand the implications of a broken hip in an octogenarian, and that infant in me reacted in the way he had taught me, to want to rescue him back. But the rescue entailed skills I didn’t have, so my only course of action was to watch carefully for opportunity, while those with the skill did what they did. He’s now resting at home, still in pain but recovering, and I have time now to look at his face, to read it, and to examine my mind’s process over the last week.

At first, I was filled with the urge to act. Somehow, in some way, I had to act. When I realized there were more skilled people on the mission than I, I waited with hands wringing until the word came back that he had come through surgery still kicking (metaphorically, as he’s technically forbidden from kicking). My brother, whose opinion always comes to me as the quintessential pragmatist, put my mind at rest with positive reports.

And then, at some point, I looked back across my mind’s workings for these past days. Worry, perhaps even a little panic, grief at something not yet happened, had all paid me a visit. I looked across those thoughts, and behind them I saw an infant, squalling out his needs unaware of the dramatic events shaping the rest of his life, a mind who had yet to develop the skill of seeing needs beyond his own. I understand the loss of loved ones, but I didn’t understand the panic I had felt for myself early last week when it should have been for my dad himself. A child appeared – my junior self, in between that infant and me. His mind – from inside me, understood my present disgust at my own selfish thought, but he also understood the things of importance to that infant. A lost boy does not easily forget who it is who goes out to find him and bring him home, who rebuilt that home, rebuilt life brick by brick through his own sorrow, and stood up for a goofy kid who never seemed to find the right gear to mesh with the rest of the world. He didn’t rescue me for my talents. He didn’t rescue me for what I could give him. What I had to give him was my lunch on the flight from Denver, all over his dress uniform.

But a child -every child – is worth rescuing from the uncaring chaos of the world.

I am a lost boy, rescued. There will come a time when that rescuing light goes out, and I must navigate by other lights. But because of his sacrifices, I know what a harbour looks like. I can create one myself, and help others design their own. This is one thing I don’t know from books, theory, or popular psychology. I know it as surely as I understand the invisible workings of a clutch plate in a manual transmission, by his guidance.

And this morning, I can rest gratefully in the comfort I can tell him all this. I don’t think I should wait.

Neither should you.