When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Like My Dad.
By Rita Lussier
There’s no way we’re going to be on time for the luncheon. Blame it on lingering too long at the funeral parlor, taking in all the photos of my deceased cousin that were tacked to the wall, reminiscing about happier times. Then the drive through unfamiliar countryside only makes it worse, my dad next to me in the front seat navigating a left turn here, a hard right there, while my sister pipes up from the back with directions from the GPS on her phone.
When we finally arrive at the restaurant it’s the worst-case scenario. Not only is the family table full, the entire room is crowded with not a chair to spare, let alone three. The waiter escorts us to an overflow room, seats us at a table where we are greeted by strangers, not exactly what I had in mind for what already is proving to be an uncomfortable day.
Where I tend to hold back, he charges forward. Where I hesitate, he jumps.
But that’s not how my dad sees it. As I settle into my chair, he’s making his way around the table shaking hands, starting conversations, finding common ground. Long before the baked chicken is served, he and his new friends have exchanged numbers and even made plans for another lunch.
This is how it’s been my whole life, following my father’s lead with awe and sometimes, quite frankly, disbelief. Where I tend to hold back, he charges forward. Where I hesitate, he jumps in as if there was nothing to worry about, no chance that things could go wrong.
As a teenager, I saved enough quarters, dimes and nickels from tips at my first job waitressing at Howard Johnson’s and insisted that the Chevy Monza I planned to buy come with a stick shift. My dad never dissuaded me. He never mentioned that I hadn’t ever driven a car with a manual transmission. Nor did he ever once express doubt as we sat there at the dealership and I tried to drive out of the lot. My brand new car bucked. My brand new car sputtered. My brand new car refused to go anywhere until finally my dad had to take the wheel and drive his stubborn and defeated daughter home. “Don’t worry. You’ll catch on,” he said.
When I left home to attend graduate school in Evanston, Illinois, it took me less than a week before I called sobbing, begging my dad to let me come home. After all, I didn’t know anyone. I was living alone. Who could expect that I’d make it all the way to Christmas? “Let’s talk next Sunday. We’ll make a plan then,” Dad said.
Whatever the reason, my dad’s resilience and love of life seem to be rooted in his faith.
Driving a stick shift and making it through graduate school were only the beginning of life’s challenges. As I grew older, the stakes got higher, the risks were bigger and the outcomes were not always as successful. There was the marriage that didn’t work out as planned, leaving me with a big job, a long commute and a small child. There was the business I started with a friend with such high hopes that ended in a merger with two partners whose vision of where to take it was entirely different than ours. If only we had known.
As times kept changing, my dad’s calm voice and steady guidance remained the same. When everything I relied on seemed to vanish, how lucky for me that he was always there to talk it through or just listen. He would shed a light on even the darkest scenario and help me see a path forward.
Maybe it’s because he grew up the youngest of 21 children (not a typo!). Or maybe it was his 33 years in the Navy serving in three wars. Or perhaps it’s just the way he is and was meant to be. Whatever the reason, my dad’s resilience and love of life seem to be rooted in his faith. Faith in God. Faith in humanity. And most notable of all, faith in himself. When things don’t go as planned, when obstacles get thrown in his way, when he faces incalculable mountains of heartache and disappointment and despair, he moves forward.
He accepts what’s been thrown at him, looking for the good in the situation.
When my mother, his wife of 63 years, suffered from Alzheimer’s, my dad insisted on caring for her for four years, telling all who admired him for doing it that he just wanted to keep her close, he just wanted to keep her home. And he did! During his own health setbacks – and there have been many — he always focuses on being grateful. For the guys in the ambulance who got him to the hospital in time. For the doctors and the nurses who got him back on his feet. For the woman with the meal cart who brought him an extra cup of coffee. Even during these times, he accepts what’s been thrown at him, looking for the good in the situation, embracing the moment with an open mind and an open heart. And he continues to do this now, at 94 years of age!
Whenever I find myself clinging to the guardrails a little too tightly, staying with the tried and true and resisting change, I know it’s time to spend some time with my dad. Whenever I leave his house, I’m reminded of what he’s taught me. Sometimes things work out. Sometimes, not. But that’s life. And when I get too cautious to take a chance, when I hang back for fear I might make a mistake, when I resent and resist my latest challenge instead of looking for the good in the situation, well, I’m not really living.
About the Writer
Rita Lussier is a writer, runner, and optimist who writes and runs to stay optimistic. “For the Moment” is her way of capturing time before it slips away. Find more of her moments at ritalussier.com
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