If pushed to name a gift that has meant the most to me in life, I would point to the one I received from my father when I graduated from seminary in 2005. Knowing my deep love of “Calvin and Hobbes,” he had two strips from the comic’s run printed for me – the first in the series and the last – and had them mounted and framed together, one atop the other. These framed strips have been the first thing I’ve hung in any office I’ve ever had since – and always over the desk at which I work, so that I can see them throughout the day. In particular, so that I can see that second strip throughout the day.
If you were a “Calvin and Hobbes” fan, that last strip in the series is surely trapped up somewhere in the folds of your head, your heart. “Wow! It really snowed last night! Isn’t it wonderful?” Calvin says to Hobbes in the first panel – a panel in which they’re marching through the snowy woods behind his house, sled in tow.
“Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand-new!” Hobbes replies.
“A new year…a fresh clean start!” says Calvin.
“It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!” Hobbes adds.
“A day full of possibilities!” Calvin says, looking all about him, little balled up fists on his hips.
They climb aboard the sled, and Calvin says, “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…”
And at that they are off and down a hill as Calvin cries, “Let’s go exploring!”
Six years ago today Dad died, and a few weeks from now, it will also have been six years since the moment at Dad and Mom’s place that I stumbled upon a piece of paper, torn from a pocket-sized spiral notebook and tattooed with Dad’s (awful) handwriting. It was a to-do list he’d pulled together at some point in his final weeks of life. A note about insurance. About a bill soon due. About papers that needed grading. About some bit of dry cleaning. And in the lower left: “Letters to Kids/Grandkids.” You need not be a Sherlock to deduce he’d intended to write us all one final letter before he passed. And this has always gnawed at me, because I do not have that letter. None of us have a letter. Because I don’t think he wrote any letters, because in the final days of his life, he couldn’t hold a meal, let alone a pen.
This has gnawed at me this year more than years past, because from where I’ve stood the past six months or so, things in life and ministry have seemed nothing less and nothing more than murky, which has made me nothing less and nothing more than miserable. A letter would be nice right about now – one from the one who spoke into my life such direction, and always in the wake of grace and truth. But I do not have one. And yet this is my confession, offered just now today on the six-year anniversary of my father’s death: I do not need one, because I already have one. There it is, just over the top of the computer on which I’m writing this, written to me six years before his death and by way of a comic strip of all things.
My father always whispered to me in his own way the wonderfully simple directive first spoken by Augustine: “Love God and do as you please.” He showed me the good and beautiful and few boundaries in the world in light of God, and from there, let me look out and see a world where the familiar can disappear and the day can be a blank page. He showed me a magical world I couldn’t wait to explore. And so the fact that right now from where I stand I only see things as nothing less and nothing more than murky and thus miserable is not something to pin to him. He certainly never taught me to see things that way. I need only read his letter – a final letter written to me six years before he died that I’m just now truly reading six years after his death. His final letter to me, and in many his final words to me: “Go exploring.”
And so I will, Dad. (And I’ll teach Eden to do the same.)