Notes To My Father, December 21 2019


Notes to My Father – December 21, 2019

M’Bari has left us. Do you remember the big lion at the San Diego Zoo? For one of our anniversaries, Rebecca gave me a painting she made of M’Bari. I don’t know if you and Mom ever saw him together on any of your trips to the Zoo…I like to think so. He had the kind of gaze that makes one think of being in a place that is somehow extremely dangerous and completely safe at the same time.

He was old and probably was assisted in his passing by Zoo staff. They don’t share these things with the public. He must have touched many lives at the Zoo as well as at the Wild Animal Park, where he lived for a time prior to coming to the Zoo. His roar was legendary and respected. I’m sorry that I never heard B’Mari roar, but he chuffed at those who have watched him as if to remind us of who was boss in that domain.  

Once, around the time that Mom passed away, I was doing guided breath work with an “emergence” therapist. I was lying on a massage table, face-up, eyes closed, and just allowing the breath to be full and complete, both on the inhale and on the exhale. As I did this, the head of a lion appeared in my view. It was so large and so close that it filled my vision from the left periphery to the right. I imagined or felt the lion’s breath on my face, and thought of Aslan from the C.S. Lewis books, The Chronicles of Narnia. This lion filling my vision never spoke, either in a roar or in that chuffing sound M’Bari made, but he didn’t have to. Whatever the message of that lion was I got it without him having to make a sound.

But there was something more present about this lion appearing only inches from my face. It was his gaze. The same sort of gaze I felt when M’Bari was scanning the human crowds at his habitat at the Zoo. It was a gaze that looked into me, almost through me, but fully aware and incredibly intense. But that wasn’t all.

This visionary lion was simultaneously more fierce and more peaceful, and even more terrifying because there were only inches separating the lion’s face from mine. And he was moving closer. I felt frozen in fear and awe – later, the therapist said that my face turned very white – but at the same time I somehow felt safe in a kind of dangerous wildness.

Slowly I became aware that this was an intentional image that appeared to me for a reason, and I began to regain awareness of the table under me, the room around me, and my own body there on the table and in the room. The lion vision began to fade and I knew that in a few moments I would open my eyes and it would be gone.

Although I only saw M’Bari two or three times he is forever connected to the lion that appeared to me that day during emergence.

A couple of months ago it was time to renew our annual passes to the Zoo, and when I went to collect mine, the ticket agent had trouble locating me. Although we had paid online, the only record the agent could find on the computer for William Protzmann showed that it had been inactive for many years. The agent asked me to confirm the address on file in the computer and, when she read it out, it was yours…from many years ago before you moved away.

I know how you and Mom loved the Zoo, loved taking the “grands” there, and probably spent couple time together there, too. I don’t know if you ever went there after Mom passed – those few weeks before you moved to Idaho and after Mom left us were a blur. I like to think that you visited the Zoo one more time back then.

On your trips to San Diego, did you ever go back? Did you see M’Bari, introduce him to your lady friend, share the real lion that became the physical totem of this thing that you could not know had such importance for me?

It feels somehow that M’Bari – perhaps all sentient life – shares with we humans the kind of joy, sadness, anger, and fear that have guided living beings for millennia. Those basic emotions have helped us evolve, reproduce, stay safe, guard and feed our families, no matter what species we are. Unlike lions, we humans tend to be less connected to emotions in practical ways…but that fracturing of head and heart may be a necessary part of what it means to be human, too.

I know it has been a while since I last wrote you, Dad, and I want you to know how much I love you still – your memory, the families you helped create, the legacy of learned life lessons you gave to me, to Sis, and to the generations that will follow all of us. Just the other day I was poking through some of the things you left near the top of your stacks of stuff, and I found a file folder on which you’d written “Keepers” full of the jokes you loved to tell. Yes, I laughed. Then I found something else.

Years ago, I remember you going to a six-month-long seminar – it ran from October through March of whatever year that was. I think you had to attend for a full day each month, probably a Saturday. I recall that the seminar was really important to you and, at the time, there’s also a vague memory of how expensive it was and how remarkable the instructor was to bring his insight and practices to the class. I think the seminar was being taught at many places all over the country at that time – it was, even then, a Big Deal.

The thing I found was your binder of worksheets and notes from that seminar. On a yellow photocopied page stuffed into the front of one of those view binders one can get at any office supply store was the title: “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I don’t know if Steven Covey was the instructor or not, but the wonder I felt at finding this binder brought me to tears.

One of the qualities I love about you was the “never give up” attitude you had. I think you’ve passed that along to me, since, as I merge from my prior career into my new one, the biggest challenge I face is not giving up. One part of that is constant learning, and I think you helped instill that desire in me, Dad. There’s so much I don’t know, but teachers and guides have appeared all along the way to renew my curiosity and enliven my spirit. Sometimes it’s a binder full of notes; other times it takes a scary lion to remind me of what matters.

There’s a priceless quality about that binder and knowing that you kept on learning, practicing, applying, thriving in the best possible way, even as the wheels began to come off – financial, physical, emotional. You kept going when your mother passed away, when your father took his own life, when Mom died, when Sis needed help. You kept learning, adapting, finding new ways to be in the world. You were blessed in every possible way. It shows, Dad.

Thank you for this legacy. It’s Christmas again – two years on from when you transitioned this beautiful and tragic Earth – and I miss you. Thank you for leaving us these reminders of your presence and your path. It was a good Way. It was a Way that must have often found you facing the lion often, terrified and somehow motivated to stare back into the powerful gaze of certain death, but with the assurance that at the end of the day, it was only a symbolic death that led in some way to rebirth.

For Christmas, your lady friend sent the family quilts she made. Your shirts are part of each one, carefully assembled into squares and diagonals and stitched in symmetry. There’s such love in the one she gave to Protzmann’s West. It will keep us warm for many years – and remind us of the love you gave in your own fatherly way. I’m so glad that the last years of your life were shared with this beautiful woman in joy and adventure, and that you have extended our family tribe in such a loving way. You have left us in good hands, Dad. But then, you probably know that.

Merry Christmas, Dad. As much as I miss you, there are things still to do here before we meet again. It’s good. And it’s family time again. You are present. You and Mom and even M’Bari are around, somewhere, leaving little reminders of what’s important about this life for us to find and enjoy: the echo of a lion’s roar across the Balboa Park canyon, bits and bytes in a computer database, a quilt made of shirts from your closet, the present love of all of us who carry on what you, in your turn, carried on from your parents.

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I love you, Dad.