Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unfinished Business? When Is It Finished?

"I feel I have some unfinished business with you," I said upon re-meeting a one-time love interest.
"I hope we always have unfinished business," he replied.
That could be a good way to look at the unfinished business issue.  
(Although with relationships, it might be best to cut your tethers and set off down the forest path towards your next adventure.)
Distance, timing, urgent priorities, and the endless complications of sustaining a creative, independent life can lead to much unfinished business:  apologies unsaid, affection unaffirmed, debts unpaid, courses and degrees pending, library books unreturned.  Every six months or so, I push notes, scraps, ideas, and projects off my desk into a laundry basket: unfinished business.
But my thoughts today are on unfinished business with the dead:  the knot of sadness buried in our being never to be untied.
Sometimes, we untie it.

In December 1968, my father, Sid Blum, was dying of cancer.  Except for one trip we took together when I was 10, we weren't normally very close.  He was a busy man, totally engaged with fighting for human rights and social justice in everything he did.  I was more likely to feel his anger, than to feel his love.  I so wanted his praise or approval, but had little direct experience of it.
School was out for winter vacation and I was sent to NYC to visit relatives.  My mother spent her time rushing from work, to home, to the hospital.  The other four siblings were banging about, doing what they do.  My older sister was in university, studying sociology, following father's footsteps.  My older brother was playing in a band, and the two younger brothers were little boys.  For some reason, I was the lucky one -- or maybe I was seen as the troubled, moody one.
The trip was transformative.  I stayed with my father's first cousins -- the ones who knew him best, who grew up with him.  They gave me directions from Brooklyn to Manhattan and let me explore.  They took me to the old neighbourhoods and told stories.  I began to understand my father's childhood:  who he had been, and where he wandered before the war.

I couldn't wait to tell my father about all my discoveries, about my new understanding; but by the time I returned, he had fallen into a coma and did not revive.  He died in the early hours of the new year.  He was 42.  And I was left with my revelations unshared.

I finished another year of high school and went to university in a province far away. Ten years passed, and once again I was living in my mother's house, in my old room.  By then, I was in graduate school studying literature.  My father had loved literature and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled the house.  His books were still there and many were useful in my graduate courses.  It was fall, and every day I walked through the red and golden forest to the university.
One Monday night, I dreamed my father visited me and wanted to talk.  I woke up thrilled and unsteady, and rushed to class where I was lost in a wistful lightness.  He returned the next night, and the next -- every night that week.  We talked and talked.  I finally told him about my trip to New York, my understanding of his childhood, the news from his relatives, my studies, my worries.

It took ten years, but I finished my unfinished business with the dead.  The knot was untied in my subconscious.

What about you?  Have you any unfinished business with the living or the dead?