I’ve been ‘in retreat’ for the past 18 months and wholly sheltered for the last six months. I’ve been reevaluating who I am and who I want to be, so I’ve been turning down volunteer work and any side work, including teaching.
Taking such a “breather” isn’t natural for me, in fact it feels unhealthy. To work full time and not have one or two other projects running is foreign, but I needed to see what that’s like.
I’ve decided I don’t like it.
Starting in 2018, once I get settled into a new life with a new child, I’m going to open myself up for the new challenges and volunteer commitments that will exist alongside my full time work. I want the changes coming to inspire and reset my vision. I want to embrace more of life than I have been. I was closed for a time, now I want to focus on staying available, staying open and saying ‘yes’.
The last time saw my grandfather alive, in the hospital in the mid-1990s, I had left telling him “Ok Poppie, see you real soon!”
I said that to reassure him. He glanced at me with the side of his eye with a familiar look that he had used when he wanted to call me on my bullshit.
It was a look burned in my memory. I was too frightened to say everything I needed to. I never saw him alive again.
When my uncle died, in 2014, he was frozen in his hospital bed with a look of disbelief, and fear as I left that room. “Please, rest.” Was all I said. Again, I was too frightened to say everything I needed to.
These looks and my fear haunt me now.
So, in November of 2015 when my dad was dying, I was near his bedside for his last struggles, coughs, and painful moans. My father was so true to how he lived in those last days: He complimented my cooking, leaned on me for help while laughing at his own frailness, made funny faces at my mom when he disagreed with her, and he never once pleaded to a God he didn’t believe in for help or mercy. That was his faith, that was his belief, it was authentic, honest and beautiful.
When I said goodbye it was a multi-part process. Spurred on by a friend advising me earlier in the week to “Get there soon and tell him anything you need to before it’s too late.”
I stepped outside of every cowardly feeling and justification not to, and I did.
I apologized for things I probably didn’t need to so he’d hear it and understand that I wished I could have given more, done more, been more.
“That’s life! There’s nothing you can do, ..it’s ok.” He spoke those words to the ceiling while in bed not having the strength to turn his head toward me.
We talked in that fashion for almost three days before I had to get home.
I was scared to leave, I was scared to say something profound and fumble it, I was scared for us both to acknowledge reality and I’d be stuck there. I had done so much in those last days for him, I couldn’t do anymore. There was nothing left, I had nothing left.
I kissed his head, grabbed his hand and squeezed it “I’ll see you soon.” I said and he nodded quietly, looking me in the eye with an expression that read “No you won’t.”
I was dizzy as I departed. I still don’t remember the rest of that day or driving home, I just remember his expression. It was desperate, pain filled, and honest.
I don’t believe death is anything. I believe that this life continues through death. I believe it’s all a single thread.
That belief, that faith, enabled me to be there 100% for my father. I use to believe faith in God was a shame, that it gave me nothing real. I was so wrong, it gave me strength to not let my own fear stop me from showing love, tolerance, and regret. Faith gave me the perspective to be clear and calm as I watched my dad change form and melt away.
“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt, nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”
— Henry Scott Holland (27 January 1847–17 March 1918), Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford.
My wife mentioned needing some unique Christmas gifts and we had the idea to visit the shop at House Industries in Yorklyn, Delaware. Earlier this year, through a miscommunication with Rich Roat, we had tried to visit the store on a Sunday with some friends, and we didn’t make it in. Rich had promised that he “owed us a favor” for this missed connection. I emailed him around 8:30am, I figured he’d be available on a Saturday and he could open the store door and we could poke around a quickly and let him get back to his weekend.
He emailed me back right away writing:
“The place is a real yard sale right now because we have all of our archive junk in the shop. We’re finishing up a book and it has been our photography staging area. I sure owe you a visit, so I will meet you there at your convenience.”
I considered that Rich’s idea of House Industries “junk” most likely means incredibly rare work with stories attached to them. I began a quiet mini freak out of excitement. I remained composed, and arranged a time and met Rich there. We walked into the store at the proper time and met Rich. He apologized again for “the mess”, but I was so fixated on all of it, I didn’t even comprehend his words of apology.
I was immediately transfixed and at home in the mounds of typography inspired objects, custom clothing, priceless print tests, and photos of vintage House Industries work. I’m not sure if I blinked in the hour we were there.
For instance: check out the band promo shots done for MTV back in the day shown above. Rich’s calm energy and sharp memory for design history and his company’s history was deep, humbling and inspiring. About four or five times, Brooke and I kept trying to buy things that were historical for House. We’d pick something extremely rare up, and Rich would smoothly glide over and intervene by quietly saying “I don’t think I can let you leave the store with that one.” He would then break into an explanation about the piece, and why it was so priceless. We would all laugh at the idea of selling it, and move on.
This was the first time in a week or more I completely forgot about what my wife and I were going through. We were both relaxed and invigorated from the design history and personal stories we were experiencing.
Somehow the tour wasn’t enough for Rich. After spending an hour with us, he handed us both goodie bags filled with a bunch of cool knick-knacks. I left hoping that one day Rich finds another reason to “owe me a favor”.
Thank you Rich Roat and House Industries for your Delaware location, vast skill, commitment to design, and of course, kindness.
“Design is a solution. If you do it well enough one day it may be considered art.” -Rich Roat