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In the garden
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[this is the final section of a longer essay.]

It’s the day after the doctor told us about my father’s terminal cancer. I call my father’s clients to let them know he will not be reopening his therapy practice. When we were kids, in the old days, he stopped working for a decade and gave my mother very little money for our support. Much later, in California, he began to work again, advising psychology graduate students on statistics and seeing clients. Now I’m calling those clients who are still hoping he will return, consoling them and referring them on.
When it’s done, we sit in his backyard under the avocado trees as the afternoon light drifts through the leaves. Then my father draws in his breath, sits up straight in the black iron chair, and brings his palms together in his lap. His exhales slowly, looking up at the leaves, while his open, grounded presence settles around him.
I am tuned to this presence. So, I, too, take a breath, feel the sun on my shoulders, my bare feet on the stone. Call myself to the moment to listen; this talent I inherited from him.
He lifts his hand and gestures around. “ So booful,” he says. So beautiful. His next sentence comes out almost perfectly. He says, “My liff, my life is jess so booful.”
“Your life is so beautiful,” I reflect. He nods, then raises his finger and moves his hand forward and backward, over his shoulder, time. “Your life has been so beautiful,” I amend. He nods again, lifts a finger, that’s it. “I hear you, my Dad.“
“Ren, med, sick, med.” He waves his hand side to side in front of his face this time, pushing the air away, rejected. Makes a disparaging sound with his lips.
“Are you talking about the chemo?” He’s been considering the options from his doctor. Chemotherapy for this kind of lung cancer adds two months of life on average. My father hates medicine, chemicals, hospitals.
He nods. “No. OK, no? OK? You?” He points at me.
“You want to say no to chemo? He nods. “You want to know if that’s OK with me?”
He nods again, looking at me with great gentleness. He brings his hand to his heart, then opens his palm in my direction. “You’re concerned about how I feel about you making that choice?”
“Yes, guy.”
“Oh, Dad. I want you to choose whatever you need to do, whatever you want to do. I love you.”
“Yes, yes, love. To you love, too. To you love, you.”
Taking a deep breath of the leaf-strewn air, with its hint of the ocean, he nods again, to himself and me, in the dappled light of his garden, the cathedral of his avocado trees.
A few months later, I will sit by his hospital bed and listen to the silence. Then lift his hand to my forehead one last time.
But now, sitting with him in the garden, I feel something enormous rising in my chest. So big it doesn’t fit into my body. It’s my love for him, curving like the horizon in its vastness. And, to my surprise, perfect. Unmarred by hurt or anger, by the years of abandonment and struggle, it rises radiant and immaculate, like the sun.

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