Distinctions of Light

I think that I might write of you, make of you the central figure of a modest novella; modest since I doubt I could ever fully capture the heart of your character, never precisely clench you within my noose, so to speak. I see you only in the shuddering of candles, an old man, one who had never known boyhood, or other distinctions of light. My respect for you rests in the fact that you do not waver, that your patience does not waver…

Harold Pinter
from Lola in Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics, 1948-1998
(Grove Press, 1999)

English: Graphite drawing - Published in Pinte...

As I read these words, I picture some of the most important men who have been in my life. The men who I looked up to. The men I’ve respected. The men I didn’t understand and sometimes understood all too well.

First, my father, but I respect him too much for this. I could never put him down in writing because every word I type or write or speak already includes him in part of every letter, syllable, and thought.

Second, Paul, the pastor of the church I went to during my formative years. I looked up to him for how well he could read people and how he could use what he read to teach them of their flaws and inspire them to do… better. I did not see it until years later, but he was very flawed himself. I think he knew it – he had to have known it – but I couldn’t ever see that he was able to create the same changes in himself as he could in others. For many who admired him, that was reason enough for them to stop creating change in their own lives. Many years later, I still had respect for him – flawed as all of us are – and asked him to preside over my wedding. But when he passed several years after that, he was no more the man I remembered. It’s his memory I thought about reading the words above. He once told me that I should consider becoming a pastor myself because he saw I could read people too. Does that mean I’m also just as flawed, even if not in the same way? Yes. I am human too.

Third, my grandfather – known as Granddad or Granddad Wilson but named Leonard Lee – the man with two first names. He is who I could fully picture in my mind as I read this passage of Pinter’s story.

The vision was so sudden and strong that I would have needed to sit if I hadn’t already been doing so. Still, I felt my legs get weak, and I wisely didn’t try to stand.

He was sitting on cement steps outside the large house on his farm in Kremlin, Oklahoma. Oklahoma is OK, though it sometimes seemed like some and other times felt like the surface of an alien planet to a child.

Visiting as a man, it was no longer his farm – my Grandmother and he had moved into the town proper and sold the land – and what I remembered was crumbling quickly to mere skeletons, small and hardly recognizable and not worthy of the memories I have.

He was sitting on the cement steps smoking a cigarette, as he did for most of his life. The cigarette was as much a part of his hand as his cup of coffee. His fingers – nicotine-stained, calloused and beautiful – held it as an extension of his body, but also so easily discarded.

I can’t describe the scene properly. I can’t take you back there if you weren’t there – there so many times each day while I was visiting. It was the time when the immensity of the man became terrestrial, but it was clear he could still take flight – like a bird still and resting on the ground.

I didn’t know then to ask him about the magnitude of things he had done in his life, and I only now get small tastes from my father’s stories or that of his brothers and those stories are weathered and filtered by time and their personal journeys.

You can’t see him sitting there, but I can see him. I can feel him. I can smell the thick smoke and the thicker oppressive air – heaviest just before a storm, so heavy it could make me giddy today to feel it again – and hear his voice.

But time and ignorance are my enemies and now, the only words I can hear him say are words I put in his mouth as the vision is just mine to create.

 

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