I Never Drill Down

Sometime in life, the concept and understanding of regret is learned. At first our regrets are small. Not raising your hand to answer a question. Taking an extra cookie without asking. As we age, they become bigger and take on more importance. Not taking an opportunity. Not trying hard enough from time to time. Becoming complacent.

Ok, well maybe than it is just me.

By now having lived over half my life, I look back with some real regrets. Passing on opportunities. Letting good people slip away. Moving forward too fast. Not enjoying all that is around me. There was so much I thought I would have done at this point, believing there would always be time. There always had been. I guess my biggest regret has been never overcoming an inability to interact with people. I am an extrovert in an introvert’s body. It is neither comfortable or natural for me to interact. Along with this being a regret, it is also very frustrating.

People do interest me and I would love to learn about them. Yet, I do not want to be seen as intruding into their space. When my personal space is violated, stone walls rise and steel doors slam. I do not want them to have the same reaction. Throughout my life, it seemed that when I pushed for something to happen, it usually turned out badly. So I try not to anymore. My philosophy has become, if I am meant to learn something about a person, I will in due time. When I am meant to. The flip side is I miss so much.

This regret carries over to family members, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and in-laws, etc. I like to sit and listen, but not speaking up. Not becoming an active part about what is happening. I am more of a “scratch the surface” person. I never drill down. This has really come back to haunt me though the years. After more that 91 years on God’s green earth, my father passed away. Aside from losing his physical presence, so much else is now lost to us. I barely knew him.

I do know a few things. His dislike for the University of Michigan. That goes back to when he was looking to go to college. He would be the first one in his family to do so because of the the GI Bill. U of M turned him down. From then on he felt they all were an arrogant bunch. He attended Michigan State, which is where he went to a dance once and met his future bride.

I know he had a story, he been though much in his life. I never really asked because, well he was dad. I never looked at him as someone I should find more out about, he was dad. He was always there. He was the parent and I the child. He would teach and I would learn. In my mind I built a separation wall between us.

He grew up in the Depression, but I know very little else about his childhood. What he did, adventures with his fiends or his dreams. I do not know his relationship with his parents or other siblings except he got along with some and others he did not. He lost a brother early in his life to cancer. Most stories were about his time in the service. He didn't really talk to much about it. If we asked, he would talk about a few things. As the years passed I stopped asking. It had become apparent that he had developed some survivors guilt. The time after being discharged I know very little about, about equal to his childhood history. He graduated college and got married. Became a teacher and raised three kids. Saw these kids graduate college and move away. Became a grandfather. Helped his wife though two cancer treatments. Retired and spend many winters in Florida with mom.

However there is one wartime story that has always stayed with me. Dad served in the Asian Theater during World War II flying in the Army Air Force. He never liked heights so it makes since that is how he would serve. He flew as a navigator on decommissioned B24’s out of India transporting supplies in to China over the Hump. After making it though the war relatively unscathed, he was given a choice for his return home. Either fly and get home faster or take a ship. Thinking he had used up his flying luck during the war, he choose the ship. This meant a trip though the Red Sea, up the Suez Canal across the Mediterranean Sea and out into the Atlantic Ocean. It was a long and arduous trip but the ship finally pulled into New York City late one night near the end of 1945. It had been a nearly a year and half since he had last seen America and there was Lady Liberty welcoming them back. He cried for joy and relief. He was home.

I heard this story a few times over the years. In my minds eye, I could imagine parts of it. Boarding the ship, eating and living on board. Enduring rough seas. One of these scenes I imagined was the arrival into New York City. A chilly wind blowing across the ship’s bow. Maybe some swirly snow. The cold, lit skyline with Statue of Liberty standing in front of it all.

It was not until 1997 that I saw what I believed to be a more realistic look of what he probably witnessed. That year the movie Titanic as released. Near the end Rose is seen standing on the deck of the RMS Carpathia, the ship that had rescued her, as it was arriving in to New York City. It was night with rain coming down, she is still wearing that jacket with rain dripping off her wet hair. As the ship passes the Statue of Liberty she looks up at it though the rain highlighted by the ship’s lights. I can see this playing out not just for the men on my farther’s ship, but for every returning ship carrying all those heroes home.

People are asked, who from history would you like to be able to met? For years I would think about that question, never coming up with an answer until recently. So now if asked I would answer, no one, I have already met them. They are my family and friends. They meet all the criteria. They are from history. They are interesting and important. Along with the fact I have already met them. They are my heroes. I just do not know to how learn about them.

Doug Thornhill (dct)