When word got out that my dad was not going to be returning from the hospital, the visitors began arriving in full force. And though OFD was not, obviously, feeling all that well, he was able to acknowledge and appreciate every visitor. My dad was a quiet person, a mumbler, but he always craved for things to be happening, for social events on the horizon. He also needed harmony. He could not bear it when two people he knew were not getting along. I don't think he felt guilty so much as responsible: he felt he should be able to fix it, no matter how little it had to do with him.
A friend and colleague of my dad's had withdrawn socially from the economics department, and OFD worried about this. Mostly, he worried that it was somehow his fault, and that he had offended this friend, since his friend was silent and did not share whatever it was with OFD. No amount of reassurance put my dad's mind at ease, and I do not know how many times over the last year my mom, Hen, Lo or I were called upon to say, "It's not you, Dad. James must be going through something and he's probably just not ready to talk about it. You didn't do anything wrong."
But James came to the hospital to see him, amid a throng of other labor economists. He was obviously nervous. He seemed uncomfortable around the other professors, and ashamed in front of my dad. It had been so long since he'd seen him that James had clearly forgotten that OFD was not capable of holding a grudge. My dad would never say, "Oh sure, NOW you're here," because such a thought would never occur to him. James's presence negated his long absence with one swipe of a cloth on a dry-erase whiteboard, because that is the way my dad's emotions worked.
My mom told James to pull his chair closer to OFD so that he could hear him. My dad looked from James to my mom, his eyes widened and he said, "James is here... to see me!"
James is a tall and thin man, built very much like my LB, and at those words he crumpled like a bendy straw. I remember seeing him -- a bundle of elbows, knees, and tears -- huddled in my moms arms to the point where it appeared as if he were actually sitting in her lap.
The look on my dad's face was one of unmitigated delight. If he realized James was crying, it did not seem to matter. What mattered was that James was there.
Remembering my dad's face makes me tear up, but at the time all I felt was a combination of numbness and guilt that stayed with me until he had been gone for nearly a month. I felt guilty about being numb, about not crying when nearly everyone around me was. It was as if I experienced everything from the other side of a windshield of detachment. That windshield not only protected me, but it allowed me to store up these memories as if I were taking notes.
I saw my dad's face through clear and quiet eyes and I can conjure it now: the surprised joy of someone who had been 100% sure there could be no more surprises.