Note to my readers: I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, and this post was inspired by memories of my late adoptive Dad, a professor at the University of Virginia. Like many others, I’m shocked and saddened by recent events in Charlottesville, and I re-publish this reflection in a spirit of compassion.
Memory is a child walking along a seashore. You never can tell what small pebble it will pick up and store away among its treasured things.~Pierce Harris, Atlanta Journal
Today I’d like to share my memory of the last lucid conversation I had with my adoptive Dad. Richard Leonard Beard was a World War II clinical psychologist for the
army air force, college professor, and most of all—my hero and role model. I lost him years ago, in the nineties, but lately he has been vividly in my imagination. When going through some of my old diaries, I found this entry:
My father and I were walking around the gentle hills of Charlottesville, Virginia. I’d left Virginia for New Mexico, embarking on my own life, but I visited at least once or twice a year. He and my mother had moved to a senior community named “Stonehenge.” I found the title amusing, thinking it conjured up the wisdom of the ages. On this particular evening, I was out walking with the wisest man I knew.
The sun was setting and mist arose from the earth. Instead of a blazing sunset like those I experienced in New Mexico, this “sky-scape” was layered in subtle pastels…pink, peach and gray.
Though I don’t recall my exact words, I told my father that when I was 70, his age at the time, I wouldn’t mind dying. I would, I told him, be ready to leave the earth.
“You’ll feel differently when you’re there,” he retorted. “You’ll want more years ahead of you. Many more years.” I wanted to disagree, but I knew that argument was futile. Daddy was strong minded.
Life happened. Marriage, children, divorce, grandchildren. Suddenly I was the age
my father was when he made his pronouncement.
He’d left years earlier, but I felt that at some mysterious psychic level, he could hear and understand me. “You were right,” I longed to tell him.