Faith at the feet of strangers:
When we returned from my father’s burial, we drove five hours north to a remote rural town in Florida and bought a dog. Later that day, we drove those same five hours south, buttoned up our home, and hunkered down, awaiting Hurricane Maria to barrel through Miami. Everyone expected the storm to crack the state in two. It didn’t; instead, it skimmed along the coast, a hurricane on a tightrope.
A few days earlier, the hurricane chewed Puerto Rico like tobacco, and in its wake, spit the island out. The winds stripped the rain forests of their green vestments, and split every last bamboo tree in half – what remained was livid, homeless, raw, mangled. Somewhere beneath the fallen structures and the splintered trees, lay my father in his final resting place – an underground concrete vault so secure that Hurricane Maria and her thousand winds couldn’t budge.
Those early days my father slipped in and out of my dreams, much the same way I moved through my own restless days. I wondered aloud where my father might be: heaven, limbo, or simply gone. A friend told me that during difficult times her father makes his presence known through butterflies. Another described how the unexplained but distinct smell of cigar in her car or bathroom affirms he is with her.
Over the passing weeks and days, I was faithless: I didn’t feel him, I couldn’t feel him, I didn’t sense him. He was immutably gone, in all ways, like sand castles dissolving beneath waves, his was an extinguished wick. I no longer dreamed of him. He was simply gone, gone, gone.
My daughter and I came home a few days ago and found our shoes ripped and bitten. Our puppy had taken my daughter’s favorite sandals – a gift from a cousin in Puerto Rico – and ruined them. Instead of scolding him, she dissolved in tears. I spent the next hour and a half on the internet trying to find the obscure sandals, but I didn’t find them. I searched everywhere, but they were impossible to find. The next day, I gave up and threw the ripped sandals away.
When she came home she looked for her sandals, and I told her I had tossed them. In tears, she pulled the sandals from the garbage. Remorsefully I rinsed them and set them to dry. Through her sobs, she explained those sandals were important to her because she’d worn them to my father’s funeral. Those were the last shoes she’d worn when she walked through his apartment, been in his car, been on his beloved island. Those shoes were a physical connection to her grandfather. She wasn’t yet ready to part with them. Once they dried, she placed them on her wall, among her medals, her prized possessions. It seemed a fitting place: my father adored her and he loved watching her in gymnastics. The shoes and the medals belonged together.
A few days later, while at a meet, she gestured toward a couple sitting a few rows away. They were wearing the same obscure sandals. In disbelief, I asked them where they bought the sandals, told them why it mattered, and they gave me the information. Turns out they are hand made shoes, from a small shop in Key West.
I can’t account for the sandals, the meet, the strangers and my father, but I can no longer say there is nothing left.
I can’t explain it, but I felt his affirmation, in a gymnastics meet, at the feet of two strangers.