Thirty three thousand feet over the North Atlantic and my buns are killing me. It started with a mild gnawing, but was soon a tingling sensation. Within 20 minutes, I was in full blown agony. It felt like a thousand gnomes with toothpick swords were stabbing my ass like they were testing the thanksgiving turkey. The cause of this torture? Abby, my seventeen year-old daughter who fell asleep on my lap as we jet toward France.
Paris was the destination of choice for her senior trip, celebrating her imminent graduation from high school. A moment is unfolding right here, right now, when time, as I experience it, collapses, and the present and the past and the now are all caught up together. Everything is “now.” As I sit here grinding my teeth to keep from moving and waking her up, there are tears rolling down my cheeks. But not from pain. These tears are falling because I am so thankful to be feeling this pain.
Just a year or so ago, Abby was so angry at me over my abject failure as her father and as a husband to her mother that she could scarcely be in the same room with me, much less put her head in my lap to sleep. That anger was justified, but it still broke my heart, because I had broken hers. And one of the many consequences of my terrible choices was that a thousand miles had appeared between us.
One of the moments from that awful time of exile just came and settled on me now as she sleeps. I remember returning from a trip last year and climbing on a bus at Dallas/Ft. Worth airport bound for the remote parking lot. There was a family on the bus, obviously travel-weary. The mom and dad held hands and nodded sleepily with the rolling of the bus. My heart ached to see a teen-age girl with her eyes-closed and her head resting on her father’s shoulder. I thought, “That is the way it’s supposed to be. A tired girl should have a strong father’s shoulder to rest upon when she needs it. Who is there right now for Abby? Who can she call upon when a strong shoulder is needed? That night there were tears too – bitter tears of regret and remorse. And I wondered if I would ever get Abby back, if she could ever let me back in, if she would ever again trust me with her tender heart. I knew I didn’t deserve it, but I couldn’t help hoping that the bond between a father and a daughter was strong enough to survive even this.
The next moment that came to visit tonight was from over fifteen years ago. Abby, then eighteen months old, was desperately ill with a resistant strain of pneumonia and the doctors in the intensive care unit weren’t sure what the outcome would be. Abby was a lively toddler with dazzling, fine blond hair and blue eyes that got her all the attention she could stand. But on this night, she lay absolutely still, marshaling her flagging strength to continue to fill her tiny lungs. The wheezing, rasping, gurgling sounds she made with every breath terrified me.
I tried holding her every way I could think of to make it easier on her, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, when I was about to despair, I noticed that as she was laying with her head high up on my chest, the rasping was subsiding. I held as still as I could for fear she would lose that tenuous advantage. After a few minutes my backside began to ache and tingle, and then it started to hurt miserably. No, miserably was not the right word. I was happy for that pain. But there was nothing heroic about it. I had finally found a way to do something to help her, to bear a little pain so that hers was less.
I sat there hold my little girl for six hours, until I couldn’t feel anything at all south of my navel. And when the next day came, I flew with her to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth where she would spend five weeks on the way to a full recovery. As I sit here now, grateful that my old buns are once again on fire, I can see that her love for her daddy is indeed amazing.
Grace is about getting anyhow what you don’t deserve anyway, and in just a couple of hours this big silver jet will carry us over the top of the world, and as the sun greets us, we will see together something that neither of us has ever witnessed – a Paris morning! Kairos has again revealed herself. In spite of devastating failures, a father’s love for his daughter can inspire him to remake himself into a far better dad. And a daughter’s love for her daddy can cover a thousand miles of pain and disappointment, and together again, they can see another beautiful day.
Tomorrow morning Paris will open her arms to us and reveal her mysteries and her timeless beauty. But I know nothing will thrill me as much as the fact that I am seeing it with her, . . . my lovely, loving, pain in the old man’s behind.