What is good?
Good is described as “virtuous, right, kind, benevolent, free from infirmity or sorrow”. So God is good. Melted cookies and rain-slicked summer grass and laughter must be good. Hugs and sweet songs, bare feet and sunshine are surely good. And my precious dad. Oh my God, he was the very definition.
His laugh and big square hands. His caring eyes that always knew the truth and how to help you tell it. His wild hair and the dinky dime store brush he’d always rely on to tame it. Stories of his younger, wilder days told with rebellious pride at all the mischief Jeffrey Lee got away with. The way he lit up around his grandkids, overflowing in their presence. Him in the center of the room at birthday parties and cookouts with his hand rested on his chest, watching his favorite people swirl around him like there had never been a better delight known to this world. The security of knowing always without a doubt, like faith in God or the sun rising, that we could not possibly be loved more by him. His heart made up of only helping. His hugs and the old cigarette smell on his shirt collar and his calm voice on the end of the line any time we called. Always there, always there. He was so good.
But this day. This day is bad. There are no good memories to fill the whole of his absence on this most unwanted holiday. Today was the collapse of Good as our ordinary lives were ransacked by Evil. This was the day our good dad’s good life was stolen. At first a veil fell dark and what was virtuous, right, kind and benevolent disappeared. We were left here clasping the only sorrow by our sides, stunned that what was right and kind could suddenly cease to be. When your good life has its good stolen, there are questions to ask. So we cried out to God. “Please. Give us anything.” Furious and distraught, I demanded that He give me back what was mine. “Where is it?,” I desperately needed to know. “Where is there good?”
I couldn’t hear the answer or make out the directions and didn’t trust Good would be waiting to welcome me even if I found my way. In the midst of darkness there was only fear and missing, evidence and courtrooms, funerals and grief buttoned up to our chests, only to be let out in the open air when the house is still and quiet. In the face of his death what was good and right and kind and virtuous wasn’t missing waiting to be found. It was gone.
This time last year I sat with my sisters in a tiny court room. It was a very bad day. We watched as our brother was led towards us to admit his guilt. The shiny wood paneling made me dizzy. I darted eyes away from a meddling news camera and thumped my fingers against my lap, bobbed my heels against the floor. Anxious heart raced and slowed, and I shook my head defeated, disappointed again to be in a place on a day both devoid of any good. I anchored hands to my pregnant belly. Through tears I stared and willed to feel the baby moving: a kick or a roll or a flutter. Please. Give me anything. And rocking in my seat, palm to Life all I could cry was, “Good. Good.” I could not see it. I could not see it through the darkness, but good was not gone.
Like a child learns to talk, this second year without our dad has been a slow and stuttering lesson in seeing good after our sight has been clouded by overwhelming bad. It is an elementary act, recognizing the sunrise and the smell of rain-washed grass and naming them Good. It is a new Good, different and forever without our sweet dad. Some days the good is small and quiet against the loud boom of loss and heartache and we fear it has left us again. Some days it doesn’t seem like enough, a consolation prize when all we want is our person back. We clear our eyes and stutter ahead with these baby steps.
Good is going to church with doubtful questions about almighty plans, but letting go a deep breath , loosening that clutch we’ve kept to the grief on our chests and saying truly and hopefully that God is Good. It is watching old home movies, hearing Dad’s voice, always there, always there, the narrator of our happy childhood. It is aching and listening and aching and listening. Good is the magic of hearing his voice and the realization that even the ache is good, a testament to something precious. It is seeing others suffer heartbreaking loss and watching grace-filled people swoop in to surround them in love. It is learning I can be grace-filled, too. This is the most beautiful good. It is shedding tears and overthinking every second of his cruel end and waking in the morning ready to call him before his absence sets in again. It is a confusing good where grief and all its sharp angles are acknowledged, weathered. It is figuring out only that this messy place is a comingled jumble of best and worst. It is not as we would hope, a separation of Good and Bad and easy directions to find or avoid them. This flawed world has no tidy neighborhoods, no districts of Good and Evil, just the very hardest of moments sidling up to the most gracious joys.
Today is a bad day. It was not right or kind or virtuous. It brought malevolence where benevolence should be. For this hard anniversary, a day we wish meant nothing but know changed everything, we gathered in the park. I looked around the bittersweet view of us, hand resting on my chest, watching his favorite people swirl around the photos of him we’d set on old, chipped picnic tables. What is good? What is good? We prayed and let our tears fall, pure and cleansing, as we thanked God for the Good my dad was and the Good he left behind for us. We ate too much food off his Tennessee-orange plates and listened to his music and drank his Rum and smiled and cried at how much he would’ve loved this. We marveled at the hurt and the happiness hand-in-hand. His baby brother, his very likeness, stared smitten at the baby just as my dad would do. And here, the smell of sweet summer grass, the sounds of joy in a new season. And there, the sight of those who love him trying to find some light after so much darkness. His grandbabies danced and danced, ran wild down gravel trails and across riverbanks. They settled with cookies melted in their hands, red cheeks sweating and satisfied in the summer heat. I listened to their singing, the chaos of their sugary laughter and in my head there was no mistaking it, his ever constant voice, always there, always there, saying “Good. Good.”