Overhearing their conversation was unavoidable.
It was intense — not heated but genuine, not loud but impassioned. It was not what you would expect from two men standing at an ab machine.
One was relating the passing of his father, which like so many life-changing events came with little warning.
There weren’t serious symptoms or high-tech tests to announce the end. There was only a psychic heads up — a vision in which his father told him he was leaving.
It terrified him at first, stopping him in his tracks, but a few days distance and he chalked it up to fast food or a flash of despair.
By this point, I was uncomfortable eavesdropping on something so personal, but also captured by his words. I looked at him until I caught his eye. I smiled a request to listen. He nodded and went on.
It wasn’t long before his father was in the hospital, clinging to the thin thread of a respirator.
He lay there panting, labored gasps quickly using up his allotted breaths. His family gathered around his bed, this son holding onto his feet, trying to ease the last step.
“When he took his final breath,” the man said, “I swear that I could physically feel something leave me. It was yanked out of my gut and he took it with him.”
It was as real at that moment as when it had happened. The man’s eyes watered and the hair on his arm stood on end.
He stopped there, didn’t venture as to what that something was.
Was it a part of his soul the father had loaned his son at his birth? Could he have taken the grief his son no longer needed? Was he making room for another’s love?
Maybe there is no left-brain logic, no theological decoding of what happened.
Maybe that man still does not know how the hand of heaven had touched his life through his father’s death.
Still, he was telling the story and, as with so many stories of God, maybe there’s meaning just in the telling.
This reflection was originally published in the June 20, 2006, edition of The Catholic Missourian.