It’s all well and good to believe I’m one with everything my wife and I are taking a Meditation Basics class you should’ve see the look the teacher gave me for a loud fart I did take a class on Southeast Asian Traditions and Cultures in college and wrote a A- paper about how everything in the whole world is a blueness, and sometimes I am able to get there, usually right after I’ve had coffee in the morning and I’m like if I die this moment I am dying at the precise moment when I am myself but other times, mostly before bed, I cannot imagine it, and I am scared I won’t wake up the next day, and my head on my pillow feels as arbitrary and flimsy as Saran.
My dad Irving, who is 73, has always had a very interesting way of talking about dying. It is exceptionally hard to be a Buddhist social worker when your dad is both a cancer doctor God and a scaredy cat and you’ve always wanted to be just like him.
My dad’s on FaceTime with me, my wife, and my daughter last week and literally right in the middle of us zoning out as he asks us about making plans for this or that Jewish holiday he drops: “So, I’m being called in for a meeting with the big cheeses on Friday.”
There it is in his tone. My wife hands the phone to me and takes Bella into the other room, as I was often, as a kid, taken into the other room. It does not protect us, unfortunately, to be taken into other rooms; would that it did; it makes us frail and more afraid.
“Wait . . . Dad, you didn’t even use any transitional words, there . . .”
“I don’t think it’s me getting shit-canned it’s more bureaucratic bullshit . . .”
“Wait . . . are we talking about . . ?”
“Yeah, this is where they say, ‘Dr. Tzim, you have to do nights and weekends like everyone else.’ I talked to Dr. Silverstein and you know he’s a macher (Yiddish for “big deal”) and he’s still taking calls at 2, 3 in the morning . . .”
“So, wait, Pop, what is . . ?”
“I’m not doing that.”
“OK.” I look at my dad on FaceTime. It’s difficult to say what he looks like with the slats of the updated Venetians in white behind him like the afterlife and his face like a child and his mask of being totally OK fastened to his jawline. Our Meditation teacher says, “What if you didn’t try so hard to get ground under your feet all the time? What about groundlessness?” The blinds behind my father have a slight transparency.
“Is there any compromising like is there a number you’ll go down to if they let you off the hook for the on-calls?”
“This isn’t a person with a soul we’re talking about, Hen, this is a machine. They don’t see me as adding value. They see me as . . .”
“OK but is there any way you would do the calls like if they said one night a week?”
“I’m not going backwards.”
I take a deep breath. Another deep breath. His face is serene.
“I’m fine with it,” he says.
I weigh pulling the blanket off showing him that this is what systems do to people of a certain age, as if showing him the machinery in its birthday suit would incite him to revolt; but I realize, like when I really want to scoop Bella up and hug her but she doesn’t want to be hugged, I realize the revelation would be for me and not for him.
“So then this is a moment, Pop.”
“Myrn, tell Henry how many offers I get a week from opportunities . . .”
The FaceTime swings and my mother does high eyebrows and an oversized nod spinning the salad. Then it swings back.
“I know but this will be the end of, I feel like this will be the end of you being a doctor in this capacity in you know the community.”
“I’m not retiring.”
“I know. I know.”
“I’m not telling my patients I’m retiring.”
“They’re gonna freak.”
“I’m just taking the next step.”
This is how me and my dad talk about it. Of course I don’t yell or cry into the FaceTime that this is not a phone and that this is not my Brooklyn and that is not your Lee and there is no distance because I’m with you and of course I don’t just hold him in my arms the way I yearned to be held by him as a kid the way I assumed he held his patients with such deep tenderness stroking over where the sides of his salt and pepper hair meet his bald head, and his cheeks, and his mustache, and the skin of his gizzard because yes yes I resonate with Eastern philosophy and I get that he will never really be gone from me but nevertheless it’s just too hard to be mindful on the day you see your dad be made no big deal.