My Dad doesn't know, but there are two defining childhood occupations that he introduced me to that were relatively critical for defining my own decision making and problem solving style. Oddly, both occupations happen in the dark.
The first occupation occurred within the (dis)comfort of the confessional. Sacramental reconciliation was an opportunity for self-reflection and getting back 'into good grace.' There was a ritual to the process that happened in the darkness of a closed and tiny booth - each week you had to 'face' the priest who could not see you and all the while pray to God that he did not recognize your voice! My favorite aspect of this was when you would say, "For these and all the sins of my past life I am sorry." It was such a catch-all point of relief - it was instant absolution no matter what. I wish my own kids didn't have to miss out on that feeling of having a 'clean slate' but this is not the way reconciliation is practiced in most places these days. This occupation of weekly penance taught me that even the most serious issues could be taken care of in a darkened room and a little humility and then a little prayer.
Not all problems are appropriate for the confessional - some required deep concentration, persistence, and just feeling your way slowly through the darkness. I learned these skills in trying to get 35 millimeter film onto a developing reel. I think I spent hours and hours refining the skill on a roll of developed film before I ever dared try with a roll of unprocessed film. Our method was probably unrefined - I would sit in the pitch blackness of the coat closet under the stairs with my scissors and can opener and developing tank. The coat closet was the darkest place in the house, even if it was not the most comfortable place to be practicing such a complex motor skill. Again, this is something that I regret that my own children can't really experience - they are living in a world where pictures can be taken without consideration of wasted film and wasted developing costs. But for me, when an issue can't be solved with quiet prayer I can always turn toward persistence, focus, and taking a slow and methodical approach to the problem - especially when I can't 'see' the answers in front of me.
The point to all this is that I always seek out the dark when I have large issues to contend with. I guess you could say that it is easier for me to find the light after I have spent a little time in the dark.
Tonight I drove out to the beach in Fort Lauderdale and spent some time staring into the blackness of the Atlantic Ocean. I was thinking about my Dad, and I found myself stretching all the way back home as I stared into the water.
Two miles north of my hometown is the third tunnel on the railroad line that parallels the river - it is the shortest of all the tunnels and is called Flat Rock. I am not sure how many people know this.
I know this because there was a time when I spent nearly every weekend down at Flat Rock - which was in our terminology not the tunnel itself but the opening of Annsville creek into the Hudson River, just south of that tunnel. It was just undeveloped land, perfectly hidden away from adult supervision - a sanctuary and teenage hideaway.
The nights at Flat Rock would get very cool, just like tonight. The breeze off of the river would always add that extra edge to the temperature, but the temperature was rarely noticed because at that time it did not matter.
What did matter was sitting at the water's edge, staring into the bonfire, and communing with the friends there.
At night the lights from across the creek would reflect into the water and lengthen across the river, stretching out and away from their source and toward Flat Rock. When you looked out into the night, fighting off the chill of the breeze and the cold drink in your hand, you could look across the water and see those lights, knowing that there was something out there for you, an answer reaching for you, beckoning you to come.
Walking along the ocean tonight I felt that same temperature in the air and felt that same gentle breeze. Closing my eyes, feeling the water around me, I almost made it home - stretching back into time almost thirty years. Maybe I could find some answers.
But opening my eyes just slightly, straining to see those lights of Flat Rock, there was nothing for me to see as I stared into the empty blackness of a cloudy, dark, and hazy sky.
For a moment I just didn't know what was out there any more. But then I knew I could solve these problems in the darkness.
It took just a moment, but then I thought about the confessional and how prayer helps. Then I thought about the coat closet and how persistence and method helps. The thoughts comforted me, and gave me enough strength to imagine a light house on the water. I could use a little light, I imagined - and what better way to find light in a black ocean. Then I also remembered that even lighthouses have a period when the light seems to flicker - when really.. it simply needs to go full circle again.
I am blessed to have received such amazing lessons even though I have to remember that I learned them sometimes. I know that I should not be amazed, but I still marvel at the number of times you can lose and find yourself within the same lifetime.
Thanks, Dad, for teaching me lessons that stick.