Michael Marano, 129 TCCS
“There’s nothing left… Just love. That’s all there is. Love.” *
When I heard that it was my dad who said those words I was at first alarmed. Not only was he mostly unresponsive at the time, but I had never heard him say anything within the same realm as that before. Yet there I was, standing by his hospital bed being briefed on his musings on love. After the initial shock of its origins wore off I began to grasp the weight of those words and the source from which they arrived.
Three weeks later, my mom and I sat in my dad’s hospice room where we had spent the last two and a half weeks watching a revolving door of family and friends say their goodbyes. The amount of grieving I witnessed was enough to drain my soul 100 times but the amount of love and human compassion I felt renewed it, and made it stronger every time it threatened to become too much. I could truly see love floating around that hospice like the mosquitoes in my school’s bathroom, only more beautiful, and compassion radiating off the staff like the dirt dancing around Pigpen, only more glittery.
The love and grief and puzzles missing the last satisfying pieces and familiar 20-year-running storylines on Days of Our Lives weren’t enough to save our brains from slowly melting. My mom’s best friend, who emits more light than my phone when I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s set to the highest brightness permanently burning Brandy’s image into my eyes, is the medical director at the hospice and was our last remaining grasp on sanity. On one particularly dreary morning, she sensed our restlessness and let us know that a healer was coming in with his son, who could hear patients while they were unconscious and unable to speak, and had time to meet with us and my dad if we were interested. The description of this is vague because we were delirious by that point but we were bored and I was pretty intrigued by what sounded like a TLC reality show, so we agreed.
Before we knew what was happening my mom and I were standing over my dad envisioning that we were sending pink light into him through our hands. While we tried to do this as earnestly as possible the son heard something and told his dad that he needed to talk to him in the hallway immediately. When they left the room my mom looked at me and rolled her eyes and we both let out the laughter we had been avoiding eye contact to control. After a few minutes we walked out into the hallway greeted by nervous energy. My mom asked, “He told you to leave didn’t he?” and the son said, “Well, he actually told us to get the **** out.” My mom and I burst into laughter and for the first time believed that maybe my dad was speaking to him. We even felt a little healed.
My dad was always more of a “get the **** out” than a “love is all there is” type of guy which made it even more powerful to me. It really began to resonate as we dealt with the tragedy of losing him. We focused on the love of our family who invited us over to their homes for dinner, on the hospice volunteers who slept in my dad’s room every night so he wouldn’t be alone and we wouldn’t feel guilty, on our bosses and coworkers who took on extra work so that we could be together, on our friends who made us laugh and feel happy without ever making us feel bad for taking a few minutes to stop feeling bad. Through all the grief there was only love.
I recently had a site visit where Peace Corps staff came to evaluate my teaching, both alone and with my co-teacher. I anxiously let my students know that I needed them to follow our class rules even though my co-teacher wouldn’t be there and to not be shy about speaking English in front of the principal and Peace Corps staff. When they arrived to class that day they practically tip toed to their seats. They put their backpacks down with the gentle precision of a curly, grey haired woman releasing a nursed back to life bird into the wild. They snuck looks at the spectators and then back at me grinning and giving me secret thumbs-up. I felt so much love and support in that moment. We felt like a team.
The emotion really took me off guard and I had to turn around to erase invisible sentences off the whiteboard until I regained my composure. They acted exactly as they normally would have when I teach with my co-teacher and for once nobody answered “What do you do?” with “I like to eat student.” As I taught, I didn’t focus on my boss evaluating me, or my principal and co-teachers watching me teach, I didn’t even realize I was being filmed, there was no nervous energy, there was only the love emanating from those tiny faces that wanted nothing more than for me to win. That’s all there was. Love. Just love.
Love is a weekly phone call with your mom, love is watching the lines in your neighbor’s tired face shift, brighten, and smooth into a beaming smile just because they saw your face, a face that you felt was especially ugly and greasy and unlovable that day, love is “good morning teacher” at 2pm, love is a toddler refusing to sit anywhere but on your lap during dinner, love is watching a student lead one of your English activities for their friends while mimicking all of your mannerisms, love is group chats and FaceTime calls with new friends who understand your highs and lows and Love is text messages and FaceTime calls with your oldest friends and family who don’t quite understand yet but are eager to learn, love is seeing your family members ‘like’ a picture of you and your boyfriend holding hands, love is hearing someone stand up for you, love is standing up for someone else, and love is educating people like you about people who aren’t like you. The world can be so ugly. Try to see and be and give love… or listen to the words of my unconscious father and “get the **** out.”
* “He was pretty much unresponsive in the hospital. I thought he was going to die. But at one point he woke up and was looking over his body, he was so weak and couldn’t walk anymore, and he saw me standing there and said ‘look at me’ as he examined his arms and legs and he again said, ‘Just look at me… there’s nothing left. Nothing left but you (he thought I was your mom in that moment) and the boys and love. Just love. That’s all there is. Love.’ He was speaking from his soul. He was stripped of all his human qualities: the physicality of being human, his personality, etc… All that was left was his soul: pure unconditional love.” – Our forever light, Kelly Warshel
Read Michael’s other articles Falling in Love in the Peace Corps, A Big Gay Peace Corps Spiritual Journey, One More Time, River Rise, See You Again on the Next Time, Not Taking It On, The Mystery of the Tooth in the Sock, and An Island Curse.