As many of you know, it’s been a big snow year in south central Alaska. A few big storms left us buried early on, and due to the cold temperatures it never melted. It just kept adding layers until finally, sometime around the spring equinox, we crossed over into the thawing stage.
It hasn’t been as messy a breakup as some years; we haven’t had much rain or a thin layer of volcanic ash on top of the snow like we had a few years ago when Mount Redoubt blew. That year when the sun came out the snow melted so fast that the streets flooded. Even the mountains across the bay lost their white cover in what seemed like a matter of days.
But this year the thaw is gradual. Every few days we’ll discover something new in our yard that has been buried all winter—a missing shovel or the dogs’ Frisbee. And the melting is uneven. The snow drifts were highest on the west side of the house, which means that the crocuses are still under nearly three feet of snow. In the front yard, where the sun blazes against the blue siding of the house, some nice heat is generated. There a few blades of grass are turning green and the chives are poking through, long enough already to add to the scrambled eggs.
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I think about my dad this time of year. It was five years ago in April when we realized he was dying. By the time they’d diagnosed him with Multiple Myeloma it was too late. That year, in the time it took to go from winter to spring, I had to adjust to the idea of my father being gone forever.
One of the hardest things, one of the things I never admitted to him, was that I don’t believe in heaven. When I said goodbye to him, it was really goodbye. I didn’t have any notion of all of us someday feasting together at a common table situated somewhere on streets paved of gold in the sky. It’s a lovely idea, a hopeful idea, but I can’t make myself believe it—even though I’ve tried.
Since my dad’s been gone I’ve been able to be more honest about my beliefs, or, as the case may be, my non-beliefs. While he was still around I didn’t want to risk the possibility of him thinking less of me. And once he was gone it didn’t take long for me to find the courage to voice my opinions. The year after he died I published my first piece of writing ever, and it had to do with the offense I felt at all of the hell-fire talk my family had to endure at the ceremony outside of Telluride when we scattered his ashes. It was a traumatic event for me, but it was the beginning of my own gradual thaw. Things I’d kept hidden away began to surface. They’re still surfacing.
I’ll never know exactly how things would be if my dad were still here. Would I have figured out a way to be honest with him about my beliefs? Would I be as outspoken about my tendency toward agnosticism? Sometimes it’s easier to hide the truth than it is to hurt the people we love. I like to think that if we’d had more time we could have navigated our way through our differences. My dad may not have understood me, or my way of thinking, but he loved me and I loved him. And love has a way of superseding belief, if we let it.