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  • Bonnie Sallans

When confidence fails...

I'm looking for the right photo to post with this post. Reaching for my phone my eyes fall on the corkboard behind my desk, passes up and over the desktop screen, and moves across the wall. There are pictures of all my dogs here, at various stages in their lives, and one of a horse - Pearl, who came into my life as a gift of friendship and sharing. There is another - my son at 8 years of age, his arms around Teddy, our Bernese Mountain Dog. the gentle giant who shared Sebastian's room and his childhood and all that is good about being alive from a very young age. Above that, there is my father, his arms wrapped around with his accordian, his face wreathed in a smile that, when he passed I realized was his trademark. It was what everyone remembered most. It was what make everyone, anyone, just want to be near.


Any of these photos, along with many more in my archives, would do. For this post will not end with the failure of confidence but with where I look to restore it. I cannot choose. And wait - yes I can. I found this one buried in my hard drive. This one is of my son, as a toddler, and my dad. And my father? He is not looking at the camera, but at my son, and there is nothing in his eyes but love, pure, complete, unconditional, uncompromising.


I am having a rough morning. I have been confronted with all the things I am not good at. I made a list in my personal journal. It does not bear dwelling on, much less sharing. When feeling incompetant, my inadequacies seem legion, and only multiply when contemplated. My go-to when stressed? Reading - escapist fantasy, esoteric tomes on obsure philosophical systems, historical treatises - anything really that removes from now, here, me, effecting complete disengagement from whatever might be hammering my sense of well being. As for my dogs, their presence in my life is so ubiquitous that I don't even think to put it in this list. They are the air I breathe, regardless. I go to them, reaching with my hands, my heart without thinking, and have always striven to keep them near. But of late I have learned when that is not possible, to reach for them, their image, with my mind and so bring them to my heart.

In the end, I chose this picture of my father, with my son between his hands because of the look between them. It It looks like trust. It looks like safety. It looks like love. I grew up with those hands, hands that could make a world and keep you safe. Hands that would provide, hands that would contain and protect, hands that would never let you drop. My father could make everyone and anyone feel safe, just by opening his hands, hands that did not grasp, hands that simply held.


My son grew up with that too, with my father's hands, and his heart. I am glad. I do not know if I could have conveyed such confidence, such certainty, however much I loved. Indeed, on days like today I do not feel capable of anything, other than seeking the very embrace that since my father's death in 2018, I can no longer has no longer claim.


Or can I?

As a child, I did not recognize this gift. Is any child conscious of love except in it's absence? Growing up I took his strength, his assurance, and his unmitigated commitment to the wellbeing of his family, for granted. It was only when I left home, when I went to university, made friends who came home with me on weekends, and told me, one in exactly these words, that I'd won Daddy Lottery. Papa died in December of 2018. It felt like - how to describe it? I remember seeing a news photo after some earthshaking disaster. It was of a high rise apartment building, the entire front wall ripped away, the intimate details of a multitude of human lives exposed to the elements and public censure. It was like looking at one of those doll houses with no front wall so that the stuff of daily life can be seen and manipulated for good or ill by god-like little hands. I had never felt more vulnerable.


And yet, upon reflection, I did not feel fear. There was no sense of jeapardy. It was more like being newly naked and standing in the wind. Having grown up with such strength how could I feel fear? Still, I falter. To falter: to falter is to stop being strong or successful, to falter is to begin to fail or weaken. I have often failed, weakened. In the absence of my father's capacity to sweep me up in his arms and keep the world at bay what have I to shore me up?

Which brings me to the photograph. I have what is written in the gaze between my son and his grandfather. I have the experience of trust. I have not just the memory of being picked up and carried when cold and tired and lost, but the absolute certainty of strength, not just his but my own, once set down again to carry on. That does not die. So I falter. I stop being strong. And then look up and there it is. Not any one photograph, not any one memory, but a feeling. I know what it is to be loved, even when not strong, especially when not strong. Vulnerability is the gateway to possibility. That is my father's legacy to me. That the greatest strength comes not from being loved, but in loving. I go out to my dogs. They are happy to see me. My day begins. I will be good enough. And that will have to do. That will more than do. I know what it is to love.

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