“What is the happiest memory you can think of from your entire life?” That’s the question all of the retreatants were asked last weekend during a Sunday morning exercise on the weekend getaway I was on. Sadly, I didn’t have an answer at first because all I could think of in that moment was all the pain and suffering I was feeling inside right then.
Writing this from a much clearer perspective though, in a moment that thankfully isn’t filled with the same intense physical pain I was going through in my body at the time that question was asked, I’m able to recollect now a number of happy memories from my life that weren’t tainted by pain and suffering. But could I deem any one of them the happiest? That’s a tough call because I’m not sure any of them were far superior than the other. But, after sitting on this question for a bit, I was able to limit it to three, which ironically all include precious time spent with my father in the brief time I had with him in this life.
The first was a very early childhood memory, before I hit my teenage years. We were on our annual summer vacation to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina when my Dad said he wanted to go on a walk and told me it was going to end with a surprise. So, in 90+ degree heat, we walked and walked and walked, through one neighborhood after another, until we eventually ended up in some random plaza, where this all-you-can-eat ice cream shop existed called Zips. Most comparable to those frozen yogurt places today with those endless toppings, this ice cream joint had over 60 toppings, but for free. You merely paid for your scoops and that was it, so I got three and placed close to every single topping on them, making it one big gooey mess. I ate every bit of that sundae with my very proud Dad sitting next to me laughing and enjoying the moment. And even though I felt sick for a few hours after that due to a sugar overload, it was truly a very memorable and happy moment from my life.
The second happiest memory I have is a hike I took with my father during my mid-teenage years. We parked in an unmarked location one day in Beacon, NY, and headed onto this trail up a mountain, oddly enough called Breakneck. It was just me and him with our canteens of water. While the hike seemed to go on forever, we eventually made it to the main clearing and shared a pretty spiritual moment together looking out high up over the Hudson River. And when we finally made it back down the mountain’s edge, he took me to this pastry shop called Café Aurora that sadly only recently just closed its doors after decades of being in business. There we had their famous homemade Italian ice, which my Dad consistently got their lemon flavor, while I always got their fruity flavor of the day, that time being cantaloupe.
The final one I want to mention that I’d place in the “happiest” category of memories, would be when I came out of the closet to my father. I remember that day calling him and telling him that I was attracted to men and always had been, that I was gay, and wanted to be honest with him because he had asked me many times about any girls I was dating. I told him I was afraid he was going to be mad at me and then waited for him to respond. When he did, his words became ones I’ll never forget. He said, “Son, you could tell me you were dying of aids and I’ll still love you unconditionally…” It was that unconditional act of love and acceptance of me that has led to forming much of my own unconditional love and acceptance of others today.
Overall, the majority of my happiest moments of my life are with my father. When he wasn’t in a manic-depressive state or drinking, he was a pretty amazing guy filled with so much unconditional love for this world. He was also someone who was deeply in touch with his inner child and often matched his inner child’s exuberance to my own.
Writing this made me realize how much I really miss my Dad and maybe I should have just said that the happiest memory I truly have in life is simply any moment I spent with my Dad, because frankly, what tends to make me happy today is doing all of the things we once did together.
I love you Dad…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson