My Journey from Atheist to A Better Story, Part 2by David Pinar on Apr. 07, 2013, under Uncategorized
Part 2: Around the world in two an a half years, and my Dad says goodbye:
After my mother’s funeral I returned to San Diego. The next year, 1983, was an eventful year for me. I went through my second divorce, no children either marriage. And my partners and I decided to accept a purchase offer of our bar and restaurant. Suddenly free from and entanglements or obligations and flush with a bit of cash, I thought about what I wanted to do. I had dreamed about traveling around the world when I was a young boy, and that’s what I decided to do – take one year off and travel around the world. I ended up taking 2 1/2 years, and it was the most amazing adventure of my life. I wasn’t that wealthy from the restaurant sale proceeds, and traveling by cruise liner and staying at Hiltons wasn’t my style anyway. I traveled with a backpack and stayed at hostels. I flew to London in the fall and worked my way through Europe down to Greece by train and bus, then by ship to Israel. Across the Sinai to Egypt, and then an 3 month journey from Cairo to Cape Town through the heart of Africa. I rode on the roof top of train across the deserts of Sudan – it was winter by then and not so hot, and actually more comfortable then in the incredibly overcrowded passenger cars. Here’s a picture I took to give you an idea of what it was like:
And here’s an out of focus picture of me a local guide took with my camera. I’m on the right, the other guy is someone I met at a hostel and we decided to hike up together. That sign is marking the Source of the Nile river. There is also a plaque marking the discovery by John Hanning Speke in 1858.
And below is one of my favorites, a young chimp hitching a ride on the back of his mama. That’s not a zoo or game reserve, it’s out in the wild – I just happened upon them hiking out in the jungle one day.
I would meet up with other travelers in hostels, in Nairobi I teamed up with an young German couple and an Austrian guy and we rented a car and toured the national parks and games reserves, and hiked Mt. Kenya. I traveled by ship down Lake Tanganyika to Zambia, Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe, and then all around South Africa. By air to Bombay, across India to Burma, Thailand, and Sumatra Island, Indonesia. In Singapore I decided on my route home. I originally had planned to travel through Australia and New Zealand and then fly back to the U.S.. But I had been traveling for over 2 years and Australia would take several months to tour and see it all, so I decided I would fly to Hong Kong, travel through China and then take the Trans-Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow and then to East Berlin and then fly home from Europe, figuring that would be the better adventure.
I called home from the Newark airport. The last my family had heard from me was months ago when I wrote them from Hong Kong detailing my plans. My dad had remarried, to a widower both he and my mom had known when they were younger. My younger sister still lived at home. My dad was the proverbial worry wart, and had worried and fretted about my safety constantly over the last two years. My sister answered the phone and when I told her I would be arriving at the Columbus airport later that evening she quickly devised a plan to surprise my dad. She picked me up at the airport and said she was going to tell our dad that she had a friend who needed a place to stay for the night. She went inside and I heard her and dad argue, and then she opened the door. “Hi, Pops!” I greeted my stunned father. I don’t think he’s ever hugged me so tightly.
I worked in restaurant management in the Columbus area the next few years. I never really cared for life in Ohio and still didn’t, and the jobs I had were not fulfilling. I managed a restaurant in a hotel and decided what I really wanted to do was work in hotel management – more challenging work, and I wanted to specialize in resort management, which entails getting to live in some really nice places. So I decided I would go to college and earn a degree in Hotel Management. And I set my sights high, I wanted that degree from arguably the best School of Hotel Management in the country, Cornell University. I hadn’t been exactly a stellar student in high school, so I decided to first go for a year at a community college in Columbus, to improve my academic qualifications. I earned straight A’s, while working weekday lunches waiting tables at a busy downtown restaurant, working weekend nights as a night auditor at a hotel. And then I applied to Cornell, and drove up for an in person admissions interview. I was now in my mid thirties, and with my background I figured I had to make a strong good first impression to have any chance at all. I do remember the admission official seemed to be amazed and impressed when I told him about riding on top of that train through the Sudan.
My father was one of 7 brothers and sisters orphaned in the midst of the Great Depression, his parents died of disease within weeks of each other. So he never got to pursue his dream of going to college, but did very well for himself. And one thing he was always adamant about was the all three of his children would have a college degree. My brother and sister went to college right after high school and earned their degrees. But I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living when I graduated from high school, and had places to go and adventures to experience. It was a big disappointment to my father. My dad brought in the mail one day and handed me the big envelop from Cornell University and sat down. I opened the letter with urgency, and then re-read it several times. I looked up at my dad who was waiting for me. “I’ve been accepted!” I told him with a big grin on my face. He smiled broadly. “Can you afford it?‘ he asked. “I’ve been accepted with a full scholarship” I told him. He looked at me in amazement, and I nodded my head. He thought for a moment, and then asked “So you’re going?“. “I’m going” I assured him. “Good” he said, “now all three of my children will have a college degree“.
My father did not enjoy good health the last few years of his life. He was diagnosed with throat cancer and had a laryngectomy and underwent chemotherapy. He always was slender but became very skinny and weak. After a few years the cancer returned and spread to his lungs, which was declared inoperable. A few weeks after my admission letter from Cornell Betty, the wonderful woman my dad married after my mother’s death, and dad had gone to bed. I was watching TV, while I had an apartment in Columbus it was night off and I had come visit. Betty came out very distraught. “Fred is struggling to breath, and I think he may be dying“. I went in to see him immediately. He lay on the bed, struggling and heaving to breath, but his breaths were very shallow. I sat on the bed next to him and held his hand. He opened his eyes and looked at me, and smiled. I asked him if he wanted me to call an ambulance and get him to a hospital. He shook his head no. He closed his eyes again and rested. I spoke to him softly, reassuring him. “This will pass, this will pass. Everything will be OK” I told him. His shall breaths became irregular, he didn’t breathe for what seemed an eternity, and then he would struggle to take a breath. Suddenly his eyes opened wide. He managed to pull himself up a bit, and turned to look at the corner of the room. I turned to see what he was looking at, and I saw the image of my Uncle Bob, reaching out to my dad. He was saying something to my dad, but I couldn’t hear his voice. Behind him stood my mom, just smiling, beaming actually, as she looked at my dad. My dad was always extremely close to his brother Bob. When he learned Bob had dropped dead of a massive heart attack about 15 years before he collapsed to the floor it hit him so hard. In my mind, I understood exactly what was happening. “Yes” I said to my dad, “It’s Bob, and mom. They’re here to help you“. He turned to look at me, he seemed very much at peace. He turned to look at the corner of the room once more, and then laid back down. He sighed, and then he was gone.
Betty and I became very good friends, and shared many a good laugh for almost 20 years after the passing of my father. I visited her every Thanksgiving, as her birthday was around then. She had moved to south of Tallahassee, Florida, to be near the family of her son from a previous marriage. Except her last Thanksgiving and birthday. I bought my property here in Cochise County in September 2005. It was a foreclosure and I worked hard for 2 months cleaning up all the trash and making minor repairs so that I could move in in December. I told Betty I would visit her in the Spring. In January she fell and broke her hip, she was in her late 80s by then, and she never walked again. Her health continually worsened and she was placed in an assisted living facility. Connie, her daughter-in-law called me and told me her health was failing quickly, so I flew to Tallahassee the next day and went to see Betty that evening. She had been in and out of a semi conscious state for a couple days, and lay apparently sleeping in bed. I sat down next to her, held and hand, and began speak to her. She recognized my voice and awoke, gripping my hand tightly and pulling me closer, but she couldn’t open her eyes. “I’m so happy you’re here” she told me, “I’m so afraid, so afraid“. “There’s nothing to be afraid of” I assured her. “Your mom and Fred are waiting for you on the other side“. She had been very close to the mother, and again, Fred was my dad. “They’re waiting for you on the other side, to help you. When it’s time for you to go they’ll come for you. You’ll see and hear them calling out for you, and when you see them know that everything will be OK“. I spent a couple hours with her, talking about the times we shared, reassuring her. And then I returned to my hotel. She passed away that night. I’m confident her mother and my dad came to visit her.
In comments from Part 1 of my story some folks have commented about my “seeing ghosts”, and how that doesn’t prove anything. Others have commented that in times of stress and/or trauma your mind can play tricks on you. Well, first of all it isn’t about my “seeing ghosts”. My mother had been in a comma like state for several days, and then right before she passed on she suddenly awakened, and from her reaction and expression on her face she clearly heard and saw something that greatly surprised her, but also greatly comforted her. My dad told me he saw the image of her father and mother, and I believe him. My father was too weak to even breath and then suddenly sat up and heard and saw something that greatly surprised him, but also greatly comforted him. And yes, what we saw and heard doesn’t prove anything. That there is a spirit that exists beyond our mortal death cannot be proven, we get to know for certain about that only at the moment of our death. I’ve just been writing about my experiences to explain how it changed my views and belief system, and in hopes that my experiences can open a few minds to reconsider that just perhaps, perhaps, life and death may not be so scientifically black and white. Finally, while I was at the side of my mother and father when they passed on, it wasn’t stressful or traumatic at all. As odd as it may sound, the peaceful deaths they experienced were magical in a way. Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best. I read an account of his family and friends who were at his side when he passed on. They report that just before he died Steve opened his eyes wide in apparent amazement and said “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!“, and then closed his eyes and passed on. That’s how I recall the passing or my mother and father, it was an “Oh wow!, Oh wow!” moment. And I fully expect my death, hopefully many years from now, to be an “Oh wow!” moment. And I expect to see my mom and dad calling out to me. And hopefully a good friend or two or three, from this life or past, as I want my passing on to be a celebration. A celebration of this life I’ve lived, and the journey and adventure to come afterward.