My father was always a man of few words. Even before the dementia. My mother did most of the talking when they were together. But my father taught me much. Most of it I learned by observing him. I learned the values of perseverance, honesty, patience, humility, and the importance of faith. I learned this as I watched him fix his 1969 VW, work on household repairs, deal with neighbors, and attend worship services every Sunday.
Last month he was still teaching me, as my brother, sister-in-law, and two nephews moved him into an assisted living facility.
The second day he and I were sitting out in the small courtyard. He pointed out the gutter system on the building, “Look at all the joints in that gutter.” I said, “That took a lot of work, didn’t it?” “It sure did.” he replied. Then he pointed out the contrails in the blue sky above us. “Look how high up those clouds are.” And then when we were inside again, he commented on how well built the building was and the sprinkler system that was integrated into the ceiling.
What was he teaching me?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that we should translate, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” in a way that gets at our human propensity to wonder. Rather we should read, “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.” Our ability to be awed by what is in front of us, be it the Grand Canyon, a night sky filled with stars, an ocean, or a well-made gutter is the beginning of wisdom. I think that is what Albert Einstein meant when he said, “Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is.”
My father’s dementia is fairly pronounced but even so, he is still awed by what he sees. He still sings God’s praises at the worship services at this new home. And he is still giving me reasons to give thanks. As you gather with family and friends, or Facetime or call them, as you pause at the end of this month, I hope you have something to be grateful for that still brings a sense of wonder to you, that makes you become silent in its presence, that causes you to be in awe.
Pr. Bob Albing