When I was a sophomore in high school, my father drove me to school every morning. And every day, I was silent. My poor dad worked so hard to engage me. He would ask me what I was looking forward to, what I was worried about. I might offer a quick response about an upcoming test or a paper, but no more than a few words.
He tried to connect, telling me about the test anxiety he experienced as a boy and his uncertainties about whether or not he would ever be a good enough student. I didn’t take the bait. I just let him drive and talk, as I stared sullenly out the window. Despite my passivity, he never gave up. He was present, patient, kind.
Four years later as a sophomore at Boston College, I got a phone call. There was a medical emergency, and my father was in the ICU awaiting a heart procedure. I was distraught. It wasn’t just sadness and fear. Something more powerful was overcoming me; it was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and regret.
My mind flashed back to high school, and I saw what I had never seen so clearly before: those daily rides provided a strong anchor of love and support at a time when I was not at ease with myself. I saw the gift in all its beauty, and I realized I had never thanked him.
Desperate to speak with him, I called the hospital and prayed. They brought him the phone. “Dad, I love you so much. I am so sorry for sophomore year of high school.” There was silence on the line. I continued, “Thank you, Dad.” I heard a soft chuckle. He knew what I meant. It was enough.
T.S. Eliot once wrote,
"There's no vocabulary for love within a family, love that's lived in but not looked at, love within the light of which all else is seen, the love within which all other love finds speech. This love is silent.”
It took a medical scare for me to find the words to communicate the impact of that quiet love.
If I could have a moment with parents this season, I would simply affirm that your presence and affection matters -- even when your children do not seem to reciprocate, and even when we are not at our best. They are registering what steadfast, unconditional love looks like and feels like. Your love is an unshakable reality in our changing world.
November is a wonderful time to press pause and count our blessings -- starting with those people in our lives who loved us when we seemed unlovable and who entered into our space when others retreated.
We may not be able to thank directly everyone who has shaped our lives profoundly, but we can do our best. Above all, we can thank God and celebrate the mystery of love and grace quietly at work in our lives.