My husband Tim tells the story of asking his father, David, and mother, Eloise, to join in a counseling session when he was a young man dealing with issues of depression. To David’s credit, he agreed to go, probably at great personal cost. Like so many men in his generation, Tim’s father was a product of depression era parenting, the early death of his father, and a stint in WWII. His nickname, given by his squadron mates during the war, was “Smiley”, an inside joke to highlight his disgruntled state most of the time.
In this environment, Tim only recalled this main thought from the age of three on: He wished he had never been born. His father was a “no machine” whose impatience in the smallest of normal father/son interactions caused him to shrink and disappear. When it became apparent in his twenties that he was losing a battle with his depression, he sought counseling.
That first session, David was introduced to the counselor, shook her hand politely and then announced, “I don’t like you and I think what you do is stupid. “ When Tim returned the next week and asked for the counselor’s impressions, the counselor simply said, “We won’t need to see them anymore. I have a much better understanding of why you might be here.”
Tim, if you know him, is much beloved for his quiet, gentle spirit. That is a wonderful thing. But he reserves his deepest self for himself, as he often says he learned early that to express eagerness, or joy, or any spontaneous idea, would quickly result in reactions of disgust, ridicule, or shame. Keeping his deepest self so close to the vest is a reality I accepted early on, not without some struggle and sadness.
So you can imagine how surprised I was when at our once yearly visits to the “animal” store with our grandkids on vacation in Leavenworth, he started purchasing miniature plastic animals, most less than an inch in size. At first he kept them close to his chair where he studied, but then as the collection grew, he began to display them in his room on an open shelf, each placed very carefully in specific arrangements.
When we recently sold our home and moved, all of his beloved animals went into odd containers or bags, and as we unpacked in our smaller home, I wondered how he would display his collection, as he no longer had a man cave.
Taking a shower one morning, I looked up at the window and noted a tiny penquin staring back at me. I turned to shut off the shower and saw above the soap dish, another creature had established its territory.
Soon, these miniature creatures began appearing throughout the house, like a Zootopia version of Elf on the Shelf. I went to wash my hands and a duck stared back at me. I turned the corner and there on the the ledge before the living room, a Meerkat stood guard. When I asked jokingly if this meerkat had a name, Tim didn’t miss a beat. “Juan”.
As I have wandered the house these last few days discovering more of the zoo, it has hit me: In this, his 70th year, Tim is learning to let miniature moments of joy escape from deep within. His little boy spirit is somehow receiving permission to take these tiny, tender steps towards spontaneity and freedom of expression. He has moved from the empty landscape of his childhood not just physically, but emotionally as well, and somehow I think there will be no going back from this journey. He gets to live a “yes” life here in this sparse Sonoran desert landscape.
This is not a “tippy, skippy” noisy joy that claps its hands and stomps its feet in loud declaration.
This is a quiet joy that has left the privacy of a closed off room and begun to explore the world.
This is a careful joy dipping its feet into the waters of life.
This is a miniature joy in its inception,but, like the drops of rain that fall in a monsoon, my prayer is that they become a mighty flood to drench the parched land of his childhood soul and set him free…