[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.] Last week I was entrusted with the task of doing our grocery shopping. This doesn't happen often, as my wife carries way more than her share of the load with groceries and meals in our family, just as she also does in many other ways. But it worked out that I could do it one day last week when she needed to work, so I was sent with a list to the grocery store.
Whenever I'm sent with a list, I'm pretty bound by it. I get the things on the list, only the things on the list. But last week I put one additional item in our cart: a can of Spam. Little did I know at the time that this can of Spam would help wake me up to some things going on inside of me that really need to be dealt with.
The day after shopping for groceries, I knew that the can of Spam was available, so I offered to make sandwiches for us for lunch. I really like Spam, Kara will eat it with me 2-3 times a year, and our two-year old's taste for it is yet to be determined. So I was excited to make, and eat, the sandwiches.
In our house, we are trying to be intentional about using certain times of our weekends in Sabbath-like ways, and one of the things we want to do as a family is to use one of our mealtimes together to name things that we are thankful for. As we began to enjoy the rich delicacy of the sandwiches I made, Kara named something she was thankful for. I wanted to say something next so that our son would catch the idea and be able to think of something he wanted to say. So, with Spam-gratitude bubbling up in my heart and mind, this unique meat was going to be part of my statement of thanks. The words that came out were: "I'm thankful for all of the times that I got to have Spam sandwiches with my Dad."
The sentence started fine. By the end of it, I was doing all I could to keep myself from turning into a basket case at our kitchen table.
My Dad really liked eating Spam, and this was the first time that I had any since he died. Any time that it was just the two of us in the house, whether I was a kid or an adult, you could be sure that Spam sandwiches would be the meal of choice. He called it "the good stuff," hinting at our enjoyment of it even though we knew how many people couldn't stand it. He couldn't eat much of anything in the last years of his life, but Spam was the last meal that I remember him fixing, as we came in for lunch one day that I was helping him on the ranch.
I'm finding that there is a strange irony in grief: on one hand, the times that it hits me are unpredictable. I did not intend nor expect to be fighting back tears and struggling to get out choked-up words while eating such a good lunch with my family, and I definitely did not expect that the catalyst for the emotional shift would be the canned meat that I had on my bread.
But on the other hand, I'm discovering that I am consciously and subconsciously very capable of avoiding incidences like that. For me, avoiding any unwanted emotion coming out largely has to do with refraining from saying anything. One level of avoiding it is for me not to say anything in any way. Another level is for me to do what I'm doing now and write about these memories with my Dad. A third level, which I can't handle very well is to physically say the words. (I can write this, but I wouldn't be able to read it aloud to you right now.)
So I realize that I haven't written much since Dad died, and I think it's good for me to change that. But part of my difficulty in writing is that often I feel like that only thing that wants to come out is my grief, and I can come up with a lot of reasons not to write about that. But the fact that a Spam sandwich could so easily bring up emotion in me indicates to me that I'm not getting enough words out about my Dad. So I hope that some of what will come here is that I can tell stories of his life, how they have shaped my life, and how they have taught me so much about the bigger story we all live in- of God's subtle and subversive work in the world in and through normal people.