We Should Have Left an Hour Ago

In early 1993 my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My siblings stayed with Mom and Dad in shifts to help with care. On my first week-long shift there, my last responsibility was to make the four-hour drive in heavy California traffic to San Francisco for my father’s surgery. I was stressed, and leaving the house was proving to be a very difficult task.

We Should Have Left an Hour Ago

I stay with Mom and Dad
For a week
Before his surgery.

We cry a little,
Talk a lot,
Pray all the time:
The three of us together,
With everyone who stops by,
Or calls on the phone.

Packing up
Two distraught people
To go to San Francisco
For surgery
Is only accomplished in spurts
Answering the doorbell
And the telephone
Which rings again.

“This is the last time I’ll answer it,
It’s time to go!”
Dad talks to a colleague.

I load the trunk,
Check off items on the list with Mom,
Walk through the house—
Closing latches, locks, windows—
Then rearrange the trunk.

I stand in front of Dad,
Point to my watch.
I pace.
Mom gets on the other line,
Then calls to me,
“Get on the phone.
We’ll pray for a safe trip.”

I kick the sofa,
Grind my teeth,
Take a deep breath,
Pick up the phone
To listen
While others pray
For the rain to ease,
For energy,
For safe travel
While I watch the minute hand on my watch.

I grip the steering wheel as we set out
To traverse unfamiliar territory
Masked by fog and rain
And find a tunnel of sunshine
on clearly marked roads
that lead strait to our destination.

Thank you, God,
For answering a prayer grudgingly offered. ­

Studying and writing about prayer recently reminded me of this poem, and I understand that prayer was exactly what the situation called for even though I was too exasperated to realize it. My irritation should have alerted me that I needed God’s help to change my attitude at the very least, and I certainly needed His help to find my way safely through the mazes of California interstates.

God knew what I didn’t. He provided when I grumbled rather than asked.
You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

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