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June 17, 2001

Fatherless Day

Itís now over eight months since I lost my father.
Since he died, that is.
Iíve learned a little bit about mourning, and mourning continues. I think the Traditional period is a year and a day. Mourning is a way of formalizing; of focusing the inarticulate ache of absence. The presence of his memory must replace the emptiness of missing him.
I feel better than I did, and I trust I will feel better yet.
Still he comes unbidden to my mind, in untoward guise.
The use of mourning would seem to be in gaining control of his memory, which constitutes my inheritance. All else is but his ghost, returning wearily to warn me against myself.
The ghost would rather rest.

Iíve lately seen the Mourning Warbler.
Named for its dark ďhoodĒ, the bird is no more grief-stricken than any other, though many of our songbirds are declining, and might have reason to morn. Itís the last of the Warblers to come through, signaling the end of the migration period, a cause for mourning only among bird watchers. Its late passage, along with skulking habits, make it one of the less often seen Warblers, and I missed it last year.

This time, one was pointed out to me in the Loch. I got a pretty good look, but not the thrill that comes from discovering the thing for yourself. I got that later, in typically unexpected fashion. I was heading to the exit at west 72nd Street, but ended up below it, in a cut where the Bridle Path passes under the street. I donít often look for birds here, but the steep banks of the cut are covered with vines and brushy growth of the sort that certain species favor, and indeed, thereís a flash of yellow, and the ecstasy of surprise, and of recognition.

Before one sees a bird in the field, youíve usually seen it in a book. You form a mental image; an expectation of how it will look.
It never looks quite like that.
Or like the picture in the book, for that matter. Itís always much more real and specific, and can even bring disappointment, if we are too taken with our imaginings.

I must say that the Mourning Warbler was actually more beautiful than I expected. The blue cast to the gray hood; the way it blackens at the face and breast; the richness of the yellow underparts, these do not always render clearly. In real life, itís quite a striking creature.

Some say that death is like that.
A passage that will exceed our expectations.
Mourning shares no such belief, but proclaims its one hard fact in the face of Mystery.
The Mystery has not answered yet.
Still, mourning runs its course, and I will hope to emerge from it, not in control of his memory, but at ease with the truth of it.
And if that happens, by this time next year, Iíll have my father back.
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