When you first dabble in writing, no, when you start to get serious about writing, there are questions. What should I write? What am I meant to write? How should I write it? If anyone pretends to have the right answer for that question, run. Run away quickly. Because the most thoughtful and most helpful will tell you, “You have to find your voice.”
Unfortunately, they can’t tell you what it sounds like or even where to go looking. Read, they say. Write, they say. Listen, they say. And if you’re patient, dedicated and diligent, you’ll find it. The “it” is not a thing. It’s a way. A way you are when you write. A feeling you have. A rhythm, a sound, a pitch, a tone. It’s the way you would sing if you could sing. But you aren’t singing; you are writing. And when it pours out of you, it sounds like you.
A voice isn’t something discovered in a classroom, though you can go looking there for clues.
A voice isn’t something to be inherited, though you may discover that others before you have written in their own voices.
A voice isn’t something to be grown exactly, though it can be fertilized and watered by useful application and tender care.
But a voice can go missing.
It is a bit concerning, after all the work it took to discover it, that it can up and leave. Scamper away without a trace. And there you are, searching for something you cannot see, listening for something you cannot hear, calling to something without a name. How do I find you? I miss you. I need you. I am not whole without you.
And so you sit and try not to cry. But it’s so lonely. How odd, when a few short years ago, we hadn’t even met. Now, without you, I’m not whole.
What can I do? Well, write, of course. It goes badly, at first. There are gaping holes with expressions that don’t sound like me. Perhaps they resemble an earlier, stern, factual me. They are gruff and un-inspiring, coarse and ineffective. They read like I’m trying too hard. But trying hard is all I know.
And then I cough a bit and clear my throat, and for just a moment I sound like myself. My voice! It’s still there! Perhaps I have just had a case of writer’s laryngitis – inflamed vocal cords of the writerly sort. It will take some time for those to mend. Will my voice be the same when it comes back?
All I know for sure is that I will recognize it when it comes within shouting distance. Now I see that it must be free to come and go as it pleases. How glad I am to welcome it home – for as long as it will stay.
We said our final goodbyes to Dad this weekend. What a collection we were, gathered there to pay our respects.
- The golf group – who remembered the yips he got on short putts like I did
- The bridge partners – who remembered the joy the game gave him
- The business partners and employees – who remember the mind and the method of a man on a mission
- The Starbucks cohort – who remember the tall, black coffee and ready conversation
- The family – who realize how much of this man they didn’t know
A bit of an enigma, this guy. But put us all together in one room and have us share stories, and lo and behold we’re all talking about the same guy! yips, joy, mind, method, coffee, conversation…the common denominator: working together to make it work better.
Funny, as I made the rounds people would greet me with…”I knew your Dad from…” They all fit in a category. I joked with Adam, a young man whom Dad had employed and mentored over the last 5 years, that we all needed colored t-shirts corresponding to the John-team we were on. “That’s exactly what your Dad would have said,” he told me.
We all laughed.
I loved chatting with an athletic looking, sport shirt-clad man named Mark, who also happened to be in a wheelchair. Mark was a golfer. He had an assist device that allowed him to stand from his chair so he could swing the club. But Dad felt, in looking at him swing, that if he had something on his chair that widened his base of support, he could really improve his game. That, according to Mark, led to connecting him with the head golf pro at the Atlanta Athletic Club to see how this could be created. Mark told me he had just discovered such a device in use by another disabled golfer who could now hit the ball 300 yards. Mark lamented that he had shared the video of this, but Dad didn’t have time to see it. “He would have loved it,” Mark told me. Made me smile; yes he would have.
Yep. That spark of an idea. There’s something more we need to do with this. There’s an idea here ready to be uncovered, ready to be acted upon, raring to go. That was Dad. Not trying to make a fortune. Not trying to get attention. Just trying to solve your problem, and yours, and yours. He lived simply and was completely satisfied, but he didn’t settle for that.
This was not discontent for him; it was purpose. He did not want what you had, he wanted what you wanted and immediately activated on helping you realize that desire. But only if you were in honest pursuit, which meant you were willing to work hard and apply all your resources to the project. That was his directive in every day.
Some people who came to the Service did not know my father except through his wife Melanie, whom he adored. They came on this day because of her. Even these introduced themselves to me and offered honestly, “We didn’t know your father, but now after hearing you and seeing you, now we do.”
What treasured words those are. ‘We didn’t know the father, but now we have seen him and we know him.’
That would be enough. If I could live out my days in such a way that people remarked, “You remind me of your father,” I would be content. Joy, mind, method, coffee, conversation, connection, solution…everything but the yips on my short putts, please. But yes, I even had those. Guess I’m more like my father than I thought.
What a privilege. What a responsibility.
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” ~ John 14: 15-20
I wish you didn’t have to go. We were having such a good time. There was so much more to say, more to do, more to think about.
Remember that time?…that’s what we used to do. We told the same stories so many times we told them in shorthand. “Tag the batter!” “John Rilling birdies first extra hole!” “Do you think she would have listened to me?” Those were our tag lines. That’s all. Just those. And then we would look at each other and smile. We understood. No one else needed to.
Now, your shorthand is all around. Not you, but things that remind me of you…
- the painting of the LS4, the e-scow you raced on lake Springfield. I guess LS stands for Lake Springfield.That never occurred to me before.
- the life sized model of the Stroke Maxer. Amazing that a guy with your golf swing got into the golf teaching tools business.
- the control boxes, everything with its on/off setting, numbered and activated at the proper time. Lights on. News on. Sprinklers on. TV on. Why bother with a dial or a switch when you could pre-program?
How it delighted you to problem solve and manage. Then there’s
- the Starbucks cup tucked under the seat of the car.
- your reading glasses, so grimy no one could possibly see through them.
- your dog and his cookie ball. I can still hear you calling him to get it so you can feed him breakfast.
These were your day-to-day.
As I sift through the things that call me to remember, my eyes fall to the tiny little cup, shiny and gold that rests on your desk. A miniature trophy that I bought you at a gift shop in Green Lake, Wisconsin. You were a big shot, winning lots of races on Lake Springfield, but you finished way back in the pack at the Green Lakes regatta. I still remember picking out that little gem. I didn’t want you to go home empty handed. I couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old.
And now here it sits. You have kept it all these years. My heart to yours. A little girl’s attempt to make her Daddy’s heart happy.
Perhaps that’s all any of us ever want to do…make Daddy’s heart happy.
Your heart is happy now. Don’t ask me how. Somehow I just know.
I love you, Dad.