When I was fourteen years old, I wrote a journal entry describing my Dad as a powerful strong lion (yes, I know powerful and strong should not be used in conjunction with each other since they are the same and do not enhance anything. I was 14, ya know.) with an arrow in his side. Mighty but wounded. I'm at a loss at how to describe him now.
My Dad is tall, handsome, and gentle. He also has Multiple Sclerosis, and has had that for almost as long as I can remember. Almost.... I have a collage of short videos in my head--being lifted upside down to walk on the ceiling, hiding under his desk and watching him work, sitting on his lap while he read a children's book and handing him a tissue when he cried (inevitably) at the sweet ending--but it's hard to see all that when I hear his barely audible slurred speech and rub out his clenched fists so that his nails don't cut into the palms of his hands.
It's even harder to see all that when I live 6,000 miles away from him, and can't even read him a book or tell him about my day, and get his beautiful smile in return.
His digression was slow and incredibly painful to watch. From walking tall and proud and looking like superman among humans, he slowly became Christopher Reeves after his accident. He tried to hold onto his pride and do the best that he could with what he still had; most of what he did was invest in the stock market and feel that at least he was making money for his family. When the stock market fell at the turn of the century, it devastated him. He felt, finally, the reality of the situation. He was a giver who would have to be a receiver for the rest of his life.
I spoke to someone whom I respected about what G-d was doing to my Dad. I was so angry and confused. The stock market was the one thing that he still had to hold onto, to make him feel as if he was contributing. Why did this have to happen to him? The answer I received was not the usual, "we don't understand...but it's all good, donchaknow." It was instead, something that really made me think and stayed with me for years. It was, "maybe that is the point. Maybe he is not supposed to have any attachments to the physical realm at all."
And in terms of him giving...well, he gives and gives and gives. His quiet acceptance and love, his smile, his constantly playing torah tapes and davening with headphones each morning, listening to my brother's taped over chanting of shacharis gives inspiration to all who know him, even if it does put a lump in your throat.
My Dad recently had a feeding tube put in. He can no longer eat. No longer bite into a cookie and find the chocolate chips with his tongue. No longer let ice-cream melt in his mouth. No longer feel the refreshing coolness of iced lemonade wash down his throat. My Mom said to me, "that's it. That's the last of the physical pleasures that he had, and now it's all over." I finally repeated over to her the words that I was told so many years ago. She was silent, taking it in. We were silent for a minute together, breathing together over the phone lines, 6,000 miles away from each other.
So maybe I can describe him, after all. My father is an angel on earth.