A Very Good Life

Today my father would have been 94 years old. He would have rocked it.

Honor the past, but don’t let it define you. I’m trying to remember these words, but I kinda hate them.

I’ve been going through my dad’s things. It’s been 8 years, and they’ve told me that they no longer want to sit in a box. They say sometimes it’s okay when I’m in the room, or whistling or singling nearby, but otherwise … eh … they’re ready to fly.

The question is … am I?

People talk about The Last Goodbye, refusing to acknowledge that it never happens, because love is forever, as is pain.

I know it needs to happen, but it feels wrong, disrespectful, too casual, too cruel, too lonely. And I’m not sure if I’m referring to my father or to myself.

Still I keep digging. Some days bring up lots of happy memories; others harp on the cruelty of dementia. Every day I pull out an armload of those memories to go through. Every day I have to decide again what to keep and what to let go. Even as an adult, I never really anticipated the enormity of it all, the blessing of it all, the pain of it all. It’s a sort of holy communion with those I’ve loved — in this case, one last goodbye blessing from the man who gave me life and taught me everything.

And isn’t that both a hellish and a deeply divine gift?

I’m trying really hard to see it that way. Some days I can’t manage it; other days I can — but it’s never, ever easy.

In truth, of course, there’s never a last goodbye. We think there will be, but no matter the passage of time, you are always with us. Thank you for that.

And now a few words from my father:

“Here are a few scraps taken, or perhaps distilled, from a good life. Life is a one-way trip; we make of it what we will. I have taken every opportunity that came my way to enrich my life and, where possible, the lives of others.

“My mother was an avid reader, descended from a long line of avid readers in the days when all were obliged to entertain themselves and, when the occasion demanded, to entertain others. Much of the teaching that went on in the home was the exchange of experience shared with others. As children, reading and reciting poetry broadened our expectations of the life to be. There was little else, in those days, to interfere with silence. And the death of silence, the lost opportunity to contemplate our world, has made us the poorer for it.

“Contemplation and daydreaming often lead to travel, and the world we have become accustomed to is renewed. By the end of life, if one has been lucky enough to grow old, our physical world may contract, but if we have stored away the images and the sensory perceptions of a life well lived, how can that be diminished?

“So I invite you to dream of other worlds, of the life to be, and to make your dreams come true.”

Sherman Pardue was born in New Orleans on February 9, 1929. He was educated at the Newman School in New Orleans, The University of Virginia School of Design, North Carolina State College (Bachelor of Architecture, 1953), Harvard (Master of Architecture, 1954), U.S. Army Post Engineers, Chief: Post Planning Office (1955 – 1957), and La Musee des Arts Decoratif in Paris (1984, 1987).

He began writing at the age of eight, publishing a neighborhood flyer, and never stopped.

He practiced architecture from 1962 – 2010, in 1992 winning the Arthur Ross National Award for his work.