On a warm October morning, I woke my husband and daughter up while darkness covered the sky. The heat of summer hadn’t loosened its grip, but determination seated in my chest. For months, I’d been seeking my “zen” and I was going to find it any way necessary. We were going to watch the sunrise. It was a spur of the moment thing that began as a seed in my subconscious. The kind that take hold of you and occupy every thought until you submit to its demands. My husband asked why in his husky, sleep-deprived voice. I replied, “How many times do we just get up to watch the sunrise?”
He shrugged and lugged himself out of bed, waking our child in the process. Thirty minutes later (I had to have my coffee first), we were out the door.
We climbed to the top of Monk’s Mound at Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, IL with our dog Ethan leading the way. Dawn broke as we hit the 154th step, but the sun had not yet appeared over the horizon. Pale and bright pinks, faded oranges, vibrant yellows painted the lightening sky. Naturally, I had to capture the moment with my trusty phone. The images did not do justice to the reality, but they so rarely do. I posted photos of Ethan and the glorious sunrise on my Facebook page with the caption; “Each day is a gift. Cherish them all. Watch the sunrise.”
It was ethereal, relaxing, and dare I say spiritual. Exactly what I was hoping it would be.
Three hours later we were driving like Richard Petty from St. Louis to Quincy, IL. My father was in emergency surgery. He’d had a heart attack.
The morning went from glorious to terrifying with the sound of my phone. A phone I didn’t answer when it first rang. I’d sent the call to voicemail as I finished a task. An insignificant, inconsequential task that could’ve waited. A task I cannot even remember.
My father and I haven’t always had the best relationship. When I was a young girl, he was my idol. Like all idols, he fell from the pedestal. And he fell fast and he fell hard. I discovered my father was human, and it destroyed our relationship. He was my everything. With one decision, he become nothing to me.
For three years, I refused to speak to him or even see him.
Eventually, I grew up. I saw my best friend lose her dad to a heart attack. We only get one father, one person we call ‘daddy’. Sure, I had a stepfather, a wonderful man who I called Pops. But he wasn’t my father.
Dad and I made amends over time, although hurt feelings never really go away. No matter how much we tell ourselves that they do. Sometimes we just have to push past the past and move into the future. Even if we don’t want to or feel like we can’t. I buried the feeling of betrayal that my dad wasn’t superhuman, but it lingered. It still does. Even when he proves to me again that he is human.
My family hurriedly packed and drove like we might not get another sunrise. Dad had an emergency triple bypass. By the time we made it to the hospital, he was out of surgery. By fate or coincidence, one of the best cardiac surgeons in St. Louis just happened to be in Quincy. He saved my father’s life.
I’d sent my stepmother to voicemail for no real reason other than I thought it was my dad making his usual Saturday morning phone call.
I thought of all the calls I sent to voicemail because I was in the middle of something I deemed more important. I thought of all the times I didn’t give three hours home because I had other things to do. I thought of all the moments I’d blatantly ignored. Because I was 1) too busy or 2) too self-involved.
Much like the sunrise, we can’t neglect the small things. We can’t take for granted the big things. And we certainly should never ignore family. They’re all we’ve got. Even during our darkest days and brightest nights, we need that connection. We need our family.
I don’t want to waste another sunrise.
Next time, I’ll answer the phone.