The Changing of the Guard

February 18, 2008

The other day I was set up to do an interview with Arjuna Ardagh, a most fascinating author and teacher. A few minutes before the time, he called: he had just returned from London, where he’d been to his father’s funeral, and wondered about the possibility of postponing our interview. After setting a new date, Arjuna and I conversed briefly. I mentioned that in the last few years, my father had died, and my fiancée’s father, and two of her best friends’ fathers, and just last month, my little brother’s fiancée’s father.

“We’re at that time,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed, “it’s the changing of the guard.”

The other day, I heard on NPR that a 106-year-old man, a veteran of World War I, had just died, and that his passing left alive one solitary veteran of the U.S. forces in that war. Something on the order of a thousand WWII vets die per day. It’s the quiet departure of an entire generation.

And as they leave, we are becoming them.

This is startling to me, because while I am about to turn fifty-four chronologically, my internal clock still think I’m existing somewhere in my thirties. Every time something significant happens—a book sells, a child has a crisis, I hear an especially hilarious joke—my first impulse is to go tell my dad. Now, we’re becoming the ones others come tell.

I remember as a child, feeling upset about something (I don’t remember what), and lying down outside under a tree. Lying there, smelling the smell of the grass, and especially the patient, comforting scent of the earth underneath, made everything feel immediately . . . if not actually better, at least more manageable and not as acutely painful.

My memory of my father is exactly like that: something solid that holds me up, a patient and comforting presence, a smell that makes me feel grounded and not alone.

Now it’s our turn to be the grass, the trees, the earth, the patient listening. It’s the changing of the guard.

1 Comment

  1. Laura Atchison

    John, I only hope that we can do as special a job as our parents did for us. Having my book get published this month made me want to pick up the phone and call my Dad. Then I realized, I just needed to look towards heaven and know that he already knew. Not the same, but I did have a bittersweet smile on my face. He is always with me in spirit as I can tell your Dad is for you.


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