A Pair to Draw To

One memory I have of my father is a saying he would use whenever we would encounter two people–usually two men, but sometimes a couple–who looked as if they were up to no good. My father, an inveterate poker player, would indicate with a nod and say, “There’s a pair to draw to.”

In the metaphor of poker, of course, the pair to which he was referring would have to be seen as a low pair, deuces or treys. Fours, fives. So in fact they were not a pair to draw to at all. It would be best just to fold before the draw and sit this hand out. But also there was the implication that trouble was just around the corner and was being drawn to the energy of the pair even at the moment, and if we wanted to wait around we probably could see it arrive.

My father was put through World War II like so many of his generation, was mortared, his unit blown to shreds, the only survivors himself and one other. The Army doctors had to rebuild his jaw from part of his shin bone, wire his teeth together for six months. Later in his life, sitting at the kitchen table he sometimes would begin to cough more harshly than usual–he was a smoker–and after minutes of the worst hacking, finally he would stop, open the fist he had been holding to his mouth and reveal a piece of dark lead shrapnel that had been working its way through his body all those years and finally had arrived at his lungs to be expelled.

From all indications and reports, my father before the war was bright, wise, loving and kind. Great sense of humor, fun to drink with. The war changed a lot of that, the father I knew more a mystery than an actual knowing, and stories like the one above part of a mythology I told myself in order to know something about this man whose name and home I shared, but little else.

What does this have to do with consciousness? Everything has to do with consciousness. The Veda tells us that consciousness is all there is. When my father died, many years ago, I had a very clear vision of him arriving at some post-body waystation, becoming aware of his surroundings, of his no longer being in that packet of flesh that was my father, looking back at where he had just come from and cursing to himself: “Damn! I forgot again! I blew it again!” As if suddenly aware of the assignment he’d given himself this time, and forgotten, to learn how to love and be loved.

Understandable. It can be easy to get lost here.

I spent a lot of time trying to forgive my father for not being the father I thought I needed to have. Today this seems profoundly arrogant to me, that I would put myself in the position of judgment of the way another expression of consciousness walked through their time on earth. Perhaps it was necessary for me to go through that process, and certainly it is understandable; but I know now that he was the best man he knew how to be, based on the ideas he had and using the tools at his disposal. And I know as well that he was the perfect father for me to have had so that I had to develop the tools for life I now have at my disposal. It is the sand in the oyster that is the beginning of the pearl. Fathers are a good source of sand.

And consciousness is a beautiful flow of evolutionary wisdom, from his father to him to me and then to my own son, each generation taking what worked from the generation that came before, letting go of what didn’t seem to work and remapping with each iteration the path forward. So much of how we are and who we are in the world is based in the stories we tell ourselves, the mythologies of our beginnings.

These days I see my lineage as a beautiful story of success. Success in the true meaning of the word, the successive progression of life from one state to another, higher state. The movement from narrow consciousness to wider consciousness, from fragility to strength, from constraint to expansion. From suffering to joy. Had my father not suffered through his life the way he did, perhaps I would have had to suffer more in my own.

At any rate, I live the life I live not simply for myself, but for him and for every other expression of consciousness who came before us. For there is only one thing, consciousness; there is only one life, this one we are in here, now, in this moment; and it is said that to be given life as a human is a rare and beautiful thing, that indeed, the experience of heaven itself is a body-dependent phenomenon; and I am grateful today just for the chance to play.

Today I will remember my ancestors with gratitude. At a moment when I am enjoying the breeze or the warmth of the sun, I will have my father with me, in my heart, so that he may share the moment with me.

monolith, lower Manhattan