Pig Headed Prodigal

Most of us are familiar with the story of the son who rejects everything he’s ever known to live what he thinks is the good life. He moves far away from home and spends his entire inheritance chasing his misguided dreams. Eventually his life choices have narrowed to sleeping with the pigs he feeds. When he finally comes home, destitute and broken, his father gives him a great big welcome like he’s a hero.

We’re all prodigals. God welcomes us back with open arms even though we’ve been living with the pigs and smell worse than pig poop. He hugs us and doesn’t hold his nose when we finally make our way back home.

This is sweet, and it’s the story of my life. But really?

What I want to see is the father slapping some sense into that boy’s head when he says, Dad, I want my inheritance now. The father already knows how it’s going to roll out. He may not know when, but if that boy survives, he’s going to come back home — after the world has toyed with him and had its fill, after the “good” life has sucked him up and vomited him out. The son will know what he had after it’s all gone. What a waste, I say. Hit that boy upside the head.

But the father just says, “Okay, son. Here you go.” On the outside the father returns to his own life. Inside he’s waiting. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t look down that road to see if today will be the day his son comes home.

I don’t know why God doesn’t stop us from squandering everything he’s gifted us with. Why doesn’t he drill some sense into our heads or blow up all our half cocked plans with a grenade? No, he just lets us go on our merry way with enough rope to hang ourselves.

I guess he knows when we’re not listening. We have to find out on our own, pig headed prodigals that we are. I don’t understand that kind of patience and self restraint, his being so right and all knowing, but not feeling the need to say, I told you so, you big idiot. We insist on shooting ourselves in the foot and he just let’s us do it. Be my guest, he says.

A good parent knows when he’s said enough, when it’s time to hand over the keys to the car. A good parent lets his son turn his back on home. He watches him walk far away from everything he’s ever known, not flinching, not yelling, “Just you wait!”

A good parent says goodbye, but he never stops waiting for his son to come home.

What’s your take on prodigal parenting? Have you been the parent or the prodigal?

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It’s Only a Body

It’s only a body. That’s what I said when we talked about death, mine in particular. I pictured my body in a bed (how often do people actually die in a bed?) and my spirit, the real me slipping away, suddenly untethered from its bodily constraints. Free at last.

I won’t be there, I said. So I don’t care what you do. Put me in a coffin, burn me up. It’s all the same to me. Except I’d rather you not waste any money on a final presentation. Give me the money now and I’ll do my own makeup and hair, thank you very much. Ditto for flowers. Buy them for me while I’m alive, so I can enjoy them. And don’t visit me at my grave because I won’t be there.

I drew the line at donating organs. I don’t like the idea of anyone rooting around in my body (even if it technically isn’t me anymore), slicing open my naked, cold flesh and pulling out items like I was a heap of used but useful parts.

But then my father died. It had been a long day, a long weekend, waiting at his bedside. We held hands and watched him breathe his last shallow breaths. We stood around him, rapt attention, the way we might salute a flag. Eventually, without the assistance of the tubes, his heart stopped beating. And then it was over. My father slipped into the other world, unnoticed, even though we had been watching so carefully.

Then it was just his body, there in the bed. We stayed there with him in the semi darkness. My practical self thought how weird it was to be in this room with a dead body. Shouldn’t it be creepy? But my father was still my father. He hadn’t yet turned into a dead person. The sun was setting and the hospital lights in the room were dimmed, the darkness feather brushing death into something like sleep.

We probably wouldn’t have stayed much past an hour more, but we had to wait for some friends who wanted to see him one last time. When they came, we talked about my father. We all looked at him lying there in the middle of the room like some strange centerpiece, a work of art that everyone had come to see.

I had made arrangements with the funeral director earlier that evening. When I called again, he said, Don’t worry, I’m in contact with the hospital. We know what to do. I’ll pick up the body from the hospital in a day or two.

A day or two? I guess I had imagined he would come to the hospital room immediately to take my father away, but of course that was ridiculous. How would they take him? Would they strap my father to a bed in an ambulance or would he just roll around in the back of a hearse? Would he wear his hospital gown?

Of course the hospital didn’t just let dead bodies take up space in expensive rooms until someone came to pick them up. I had heard the hospital had a room, a cold room, where they kept the bodies until they were picked up. I didn’t like the idea of my father waiting there by himself in a cold room, probably in a sub basement with no windows. Not that he would be looking for a view. Then I realized even the funeral director had to put my father somewhere, and it probably wasn’t a guest room in the funeral home.

On my way out, I talked to the nurse. Don’t worry, she said, We’ll clean everything up and get him ready. Like clearing the table and wrapping up the leftovers. It felt strange leaving my father there, with no one to speak for him. But I was exhausted, and there was nothing more for me to do.

Over the next few days, I called the funeral director. I checked in with Medical Records. I wanted to make sure my father was okay. Had they come to get him? It’s just a body, I told myself. But I didn’t like the idea of my father waiting there, forgotten. And besides, it was cold. I knew it was absurd, but I found myself wishing he had a blanket.

The Bible patriarchs buried their dead while the heathen burned theirs. I believe in a bodily resurrection, and I don’t know if cremation is antithetical to resurrection, (What happened to people who burned to death?). It was a relief to have my father’s ashes. I didn’t have to think about him — my father, his body — somewhere under the ground or in a bag. He wasn’t cold, lonely, or slowly decaying. The ashes were proof of that.

It was only a body, but it was the father I knew while he was with us on this earth. Those arms held me, those lips brushed the top of my head. That face was the one I searched for in a crowd. Those eyes smiled and watched me grow up. I saw that hair grow white, that head nod off to sleep.

My brother released my father’s ashes into the Pacific on one of his scuba dives. My father is gone, and it’s somehow fitting that his body is also no longer here.
Puget Sound

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