God. Father to the Fatherless.

The week of Earth Day has always been reflective for me. For most, it’s about Spring and ‘newness’ and celebration of life, which is still how I feel, every April 22nd despite it marking the anniversary of my father’s death. There’s of course always a heightened sadness since losing him when I was 12, but that loss has always given me a special lens to view life through.

Just as we can’t understand the overwhelming power of romantic love before falling head first, or the intensity of loving a child until you hold that wailing bundle, you really can’t understand how deeply loss affects and molds the heart, until you’ve survived it. For me, Earth Day marks the greatest wound, and the greatest gift, of my life.

My dad was 38 when he died of a sudden heart attack, one day after we got home from a Disney trip. He left my mom and three girls aged 5, 9 and 12 and we still feel the ripples of shock to this day. But I rarely reflect on what could have been. I’m just always in awe of what my dad was able to accomplish and how many people he impacted while here. He bought a supermarket with my uncle, with zero business or food service background. He became an ordained minister and eventually started his own church. He ran a prison ministry, went on foreign mission trips and when I was in sixth grade he brought home a homeless women to live with us. We all went out to eat every Thursday night, and he made sure we always took two solid vacations a year because family mattered most. He did so much in such as short stint of time, and he made every one of us feel like we were the sun and the stars, to him.  I can barely remember where to pick my kids up after work, and not burn the fish sticks. He somehow made it all work, without seeming frantic, or out of balance, or stressed.

He died before his time, but my dad lived on purpose. He went after his dreams despite lots of setbacks and opposition, and I’m not sure he really ever gave up on anything.  It’s as if his subconscious knew he’d have less moments to love and live through. That’s what I think about, on Earth Day, when the warm sun and sense of moving forward, warms my spirit.

The loss of my dad has of course has of course left a void and absence of security that I feel to this day, but it’s also given me perspective I’d never have, without losing him. I know I’ve been given the gift of a heightened, perpetual gratefulness for time. Not just the good, fun or exciting times, but the literal mundane, ordinary parts of life we all can take for granted. I feel like from the moment my dad left, I’ve lived with an ever present awareness that everything is fleeting and really live in the moment. And choose to walk out of the moment, by and walk away from situations that drain or distract from the person I’m trying to be. I’ve prayed for people instead of worrying, because I hate the thought of anxiety stealing our peace and joy. I’ve painfully severed relationships because life is too short for tepid I love you’s. I’ve sat on the floor playing Lego ‘til my brain’s numb because I know these are the days I’ll miss. It might sound fear-based, but it’s totally rooted in a love and appreciation for life that come through the lens of loss.

There are unavoidable, mundane and dutiful parts of life we all mull through like long work meetings and paying taxes (eventually) but my dad’s Earth Da week always reminds me how short life even a full life is and to strive against wasting any of it. Like Netflix binging instead of working on the next book. Or staying in a relationship you’re not 100 percent in to. Or getting sucked into Instagram when you’re kids are begging for you to play. I can’t stand the thought of wasted time because we have so much of it than I think we realize.

I’ve always tried to remind myself to say no to things that pull me down or away from what I’m striving to be, or do, because it’s so easy to think we’ll get to that, or become that person, some day. When we have more time, or energy, or circumstances change. But life is too short to settle for a measure of happiness in any situation, when you dream for more. There are of course parts of life that will always be a drag but I always want to focus on, and do more of or what makes me feel alive and happy. Playing the piano, full force while waiting for the school bus, despite what the neighbors think. Dancing in the kitchen while the water boils because, dang it random pirouetting gives me joy.  Never giving up the exhausting search, until you find the person who really, deep down gets you. Taking the online master’s course with one eyeball open at night because it’s now or friggin’ never. Taking vacation with the kids even if it means sacrificing cable and dinners out for a while, because these are the moments that matter.

Here’s to you, dad, for showing me the preciousness of life, and learning to stop and smell the roses. Happy Earth Day. It misses you.

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JESSICA KASTNER

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