May 25, 1936 - November 4, 2012
The day to answer that question arrives: who's that man?
We hear his great achievements, his catalogs of recognition. We recall his tales, his exploits, his tales, and skills, and even more of his tales. None of these define him. Even the uniform he takes to the grave, amid honors for patriotism so well earned, fails to define who that man is -- if we silence the routine, seemingly insignificant, and comparatively inconsequential tasks that swallowed up much of his life.
To some this man of so many talents merely spent decades bent over the aircraft engine blades coming down a GE assembly line. To him, as tedious -- as downright monotonous -- as his ever busy mind must have found such work, it served his country as thoroughly as putting on his uniform. He filled an essential role in America's Cold War defense, and held equal pride in a well polished blade or a well-dressed wound. He deferred his own mounting drive for personal expression to secure food and health care for his family.
|He considers environmentalist movements subversive,|
yet cultivated a lifelong intimacy with nature and the Earth.
When serving as Town Constable, and Wallingford youth mockingly labeled him "Columbo", he took it as a compliment. He calls Peace signs Soviet propaganda, yet taught me that resorting to violence demonstrates weakness of mind. He considers the ACLU a socialist front, yet holds the Bill of Rights sacred with the rest of Our Constitution. He considers environmentalist movements subversive, yet cultivated a lifelong intimacy with nature and the Earth. How many other men can hoot a bear from the cliffs above down to the island shelter at Rocky Pond, merely for amusement? The Pennsylvania scout master whose troop shared the shelter with us that night was amused -- until he heard the bear splash into the water a dozen feet away!
"Think globally, act locally" qualifies as hippie socialist rhetoric to my father. Yet from his example I understand that whatever meager resources I have are not my own. If I learn a friend is homeless and I have an extra room, that room is not mine, and I cannot put a price on opening my home. If a friend needs a car to work while repairing his own car, he needs my extra vehicle more than I do for awhile. If I have no job and my last five dollars in my pocket, and a neighbor needs gas money to get to work, God obviously put that in my pocket to get to him, because he will get more good out of it than me right now.
That man deserves the praise we pour out, but we sell his humanity short if simultaneously failing to acknowledge -- without enumerating -- his human failings. I know that INRI - I.N.R.I. - holds special significance for my father as a Mason. I know that the widow's son crucified beneath that sign, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", never taught - however much we hear it - he never taught that we should hate the sin and love the sinner. He taught that we should hate our own sins and never judge anyone else's sins at all --and everyone of us falls short on both of these commandments every day.
Only love has the power to achieve this, and my father's influence inspired my own lyrical lines, "love sends a scalpel to slice our souls, and love brings a balsam to heal".* We cannot love others in spite of their sins and faults. My father knows that to truly love others we must eagerly wrap them in an unconditional embrace with all their imperfection and offensiveness, even if it feels like hugging a pet porcupine -- even if the offense is failing to meet that ideal.
The proof that he's right is that those whose failings, weaknesses, and offenses we know most intimately, and often suffer from the most, are those we love the deepest and the best ourselves. So, that man's influence also inspired me to write, "from before we are born, to beyond our lives, fate contrives, anger weakens, hate deprives, love survives."*
Who's that man? That man is my hero. That man is my father. That's the man who gave me my dimples.
-- Peter John Stone
Nov. 9, 2012
(c)2012 Peter John Stone / All Rights Reserved
*Quotes from "Love Survives" (c)1991 Peter John Stone available at Mirrors in a Prism Poetry Blog.