IT’S GOOD TO BE HERE

IT’S GOOD TO BE HERE

From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

It’s Good to Be Here

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Plato

A gentle autumn breeze ruffled my father’s white wispy hair. The rugged mountains behind him, resplendent in their fall colors, framed his face in vivid reds, golds, and yellows. He squinted his one good eye against the bright midday sunshine.

And he smiled.

I’d like to be able to tell you what he was smiling about. It could have been the fresh air, or the sunshine, or the fact that tapioca pudding was waiting for him back inside the care center. It could have been any one of those things, or all of them, or none of them. I’ll never know. Alzheimer’s doesn’t allow for a lot of explanation.

So we sat there, Dad in his wheelchair and I on a park bench, holding hands and looking out over a pleasant, peaceful October morning. I asked him how he was feeling, and he said, “Fine.” I asked if the people at the care center were taking good care of him, and he said, “Yes.” I told him about the birth of my second granddaughter, and how we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of another grandchild in March.

And he smiled.

At last I stood to begin the walk back to the care center. As I stooped to release the brakes on Dad’s wheelchair, he reached up with a shaky hand and touched my cheek. I looked into his eyes. They were focused. Concentrated. He struggled to speak.

“It’s . . . it’s . . . good . . .”

I wasn’t sure whether to wait and let him finish or to try to help him. During the past year or two, his ability to communicate has diminished significantly. I can’t remember the last time I heard him utter a coherent sentence of more than a word or two. And yet, he seemed to be working so hard to say something. I had to help.

“What’s good, Dad? The weather? The park? The care center? What’s good?”

He seemed to gather himself for one last push.

“Here,” he said. “To . . . be . . . here.”

His struggle ended. His message was out there. But what was it?

“It’s good to be here?” I asked. “Is that what you’re trying to say? It’s good to be here?”

And he smiled.

I took his frail hands in mine and kissed him on the forehead.

“Yes, it is, Dad,” I said, tears surging to my eyes. “It’s good to be here.”

I considered his message as we strolled back to the care center. If any man has a right to complain about his current lot in life, it is my father. He had led a good and honorable life filled with love, service, and sacrifice. To be suffering the indignities of this disease at a time when he should be savoring the fruits of his labors seems patently unfair. And yet, in that one moment of clarity and comprehension, his one thought is that—despite everything—“It’s good to be here.”

I’ve thought about that in relation to my own life lately, and I’ve decided that Dad, as usual, is right. Despite the struggles, fears, and challenges that daily surround us, it’s good to be here. It’s good to be alive. It’s good to experience all that life offers—the good things and the bad, the triumphs and the tragedies, the joys and the vicissitudes.

It’s good to be here even when it’s bad to be here, because that’s when we learn and grow the most.

I tried to explain all of that to Dad the next time I saw him.

And he smiled.

Joseph Walker

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