For some reason, I've been thinking about my father lately. I don't actually do that very often. He died in early June, 1991, in a hospital in Morecambe, England, where he'd been for the last two years of his life, sinking deeper and deeper into dementia, which, in truth, was okay because it relieved each of us from the burden of conversation on the two times I was able get over there to visit him.
By that point, we had nothing to say to each other anyway; hadn't for years. We were a cliché; as real an example of Harry Chapin's “The Cat's in the Cradle” as you could find. As a child, he had no time for me, none, not any. Even the simplest question would be answered “Ask me again later,” which meant not at all. As an adult, I had no time for him and I made sure payback was a bitch.
I was 41 when he died. I have no idea how old he was. Really. Not a clue. I admit, I did stop asking, but there was a time I really wanted to know. Talk about family secrets. But then, I've never known how old my sisters were either. My sister Betty is still living and I guess I could ask, but I've stopped caring about that as well.
I suppose he could have come to mind because I have cancer and you tend to revisit, rethink, a lot of things as part of the journey. But I don't think that's it. My father was so removed from decisions I made about my life for so long, having cancer would've been just one more thing not to talk to him about.
Nah. I think he came to mind because, like a ripple in The Force, Frank Capra's “It's a Wonderful Life” is about to make its annual television appearance.
My dad loved Frank Capra movies. When I was still trying to get his attention, in my early 20s probably, I bought a book from the Book of the Month club called “The Name Above the Title” which chronicled Capra's years in Hollywood to that point. I really enjoyed the book, enough that I've gone back and read it again.
My father loved that book. It would have been a good thing to talk about, I think, if either of us knew how. He said what he liked and I said what I liked, but, again, just because words were exchanged, doesn't mean there was a conversation.
Looking back, I think my father might have related to the story of Capra's family coming to the United States when Frank Junior was six years old. They didn't have very much and worked hard for what they got. My parents came to this country when I was 14 and it was a very different place in 1963 than the one the Capras came to in 1903. Still, I think he could relate to the struggle and the outsidedness that Capra talked about.
But what does any of this have to do with my having cancer in 2013? More than you'd think, and “It's a Wonderful Life” would be at the heart of it.
For a long time I hated that movie; hated it big time. True, in my early 20s, I could still watch with the sense that the moral issues at its core were valid: do the right thing for the right reasons, put yourself second as you helped others, and you would receive back tenfold. How could that not be a good thing? That's the Beatitudes, brothers and sisters, straight out of the Sermon on the Mount.
But it was also around this time- if you'll forgive a terribly tortured metaphor- that I took my first bite of the apple from the tree of cynicism. I took it willingly and went back time and again for more. Terrible metaphor, right? But you know what I'm sayin'. Angels notwithstanding, I simply didn't buy the ending. It seemed to me the worst kind of Capra Corn.
Oh. Did I mention that this cynicism, angst and unhappiness coincided with my anger phase? No? Well it did. The anger legitimized all the cynical crap that poured out of me. It was a case of “Well, you'd feel the same way if you were me. If you had all this stuff going wrong in your life.”
A few years ago, though, it started to dawn on me that I might not have been looking at the big picture on all of that and I started looking at my part in the things that were so upsetting to me. After all, I was the one constant. I was always there when things didn't go right. Hmmmm.
And then I got cancer and ain't that just something a cynic could feast on? Why me? I didn't do anything to deserve this and blah, blah,blah, yackety, yackety, kum ba yah. I'm sure I could return to my apple metaphor and add a couple of additional tortured twists; perhaps along the lines of “I went back to the Forest of Cynicism, but all the trees had been chopped down and roses, carnations and dahlias had bloomed in their place.” Wow. That's embarrassing.
Anyway, suffice to say that the outpouring of support, prayers, get well wishes, “We love yous,” have made the end of “It's a Wonderful Life” real. Seriously. I had no idea that I meant so much to so many people; that people who don't even know me could sense something in me they wanted to acknowledge. I hope that doesn't sound egotistical, because whatever moved people to support me came from God and the hundreds of prayers that have been said on my behalf.
I don't know why writing about this became so important, it just did. Maybe it's because I can't be the only person in America who was irritated year after year by the end of “It's a Wonderful Life.” If you too are annoyed by the ending, because nothing like that has ever happened to you... Don't give up before the miracle happens.
There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.