by Dr. Stew Bittman
It's been 6 months now since my dad passed on, and as time goes by I find the memories of his last few months of pain and confusion and sadness and terror fading. Instead, there are countless reminders of his joy, his humor, his warmth and his wisdom. Every day I have an increasing awareness of the impact he had on my life. I literally quote him daily. And I always give him credit, concluding multitudinous sentences with, "as my dad used to say". For instance, on gray days like we've been having in abundance during the first part of "spring", he would've said, "it's a good day for a hanging". Anytime I find myself in a beautiful or semi-decadent setting I hear his voice clearly asking "what do you think the poor people are doing right now?" If anyone ever mentions the word "comfortable" around me, I invariably think of his response whenever he was asked if he was comfortable-"I make a living". And it's not just his quotations, some of which are undoubtedly uttered around the world since I and others have taken them there. Whenever I hear someone whistling, I think of the resounding rendition of "Turkey in the Straw" he would belt out with gusto when he was happy, which was most of the time.
I still feel my dad's presence, but mostly I feel his absence. And though I'm not sure if my heart can possibly grow fonder through that absence, I know it misses his steady, gentle kindness. He almost always made people feel better about themselves, and as I wrote in my last article (paraphrasing Maya Angelou), people won't remember what you said or did but they'll never forget how you made them feel. I recall one time long ago my family was driving out of a picnic area because it had started to rain heavily. Another family was waiting to cross the street to their car, looking completely waterlogged, and my dad stopped for them. As they walked by our car they waved at my dad's gesture. He rolled down the window and shouted, "I didn't want you to get wet!" He probably would've stopped for them anyway, but the point is I bet they never forgot that incident even after these 40+ years. Much more recently he came up from Carson City to hear me speak at Unity at the Lake even though he had just had his first round of chemotherapy and half of his hair was gone. I'll never forget that because I know how hard it was for him, considering how lousy he felt and also how all the Bittman males have such significant issues around their hair!
Kindness was indeed my dad's credo, and when I think of his impact on me I can't help pondering his impact on others and on this world through that kindness. I firmly believe in the idea that every act of kindness is always rewarded and acknowledged, and that somehow the world is forever changed by it. The kindness and compassion and humor my dad helped instill in me have become my highest values, and when I've expressed those values in word and deed I've had by far the most positive impact on others. I can only wonder at how far that impact has rippled out into the world.
Most of us, I believe, have doubts about what difference we make as individuals. When compared to the enormous magnitude of problems we see and hear about every day, locally and globally, our own power to make a difference seems trivial. Sort of like swatting a gnat on the tip of the horn of a charging rhinoceros. And so the tendency becomes to do nothing. Yet as I travel through this great mystery called life I have become increasingly convinced that we each indeed do make a difference. In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", Jimmy Stewart's character gets to see how different the world would have been if he hadn't been born. That would be true for all of us. Each of our lives touches countless others, each of us has tremendous gifts to bring to the world, and every one of us is here to express those gifts and to leave a legacy of love. That legacy is assured, and perhaps its greatness depends not so much on all the "great" things we accomplish as on how often we simply express who we are in service, love and kindness. Jimmy Stewart's character lived his life that way and ultimately his problems were overcome. Enough love might even stop the rhinoceros. In the meantime, I choose to focus on the action and not on the fruit it might bear. I don't think my dad ever worried about the difference he was making in the world, yet I know he made a huge difference. Perhaps that was the greatest lesson he ever taught me. Thanks for that, dad, and for everything.