Cheap Seats 2022 By Rich Trzupek
By Rich Trzupek
Thirty-three years ago. Not even a fraction of a fraction of an eyeblink in cosmological terms. But in human, temporal terms? Thirty-three years is a long time.
In 1989 I was 29 years of age. I had recently been diagnosed with and began to be treated for mental health disorders that I found embarrassing and shameful at the time. Eventually, I would learn my issues were no more embarrassing or shameful than inheriting other disabilities like diabetes or anemia. There is no point in apologizing for that you cannot control.
In the years to come I would dismiss the embarrassment and shame of my natural short-comings as an unworthy crutch and began talking about my situation in honest, frank terms. I did not and do not consider myself “courageous” for doing so. There is nothing courageous about discussing the particular challenges that life tosses your way. All that demands is a commitment to honesty and a refusal to attach undue significance to opinions that may conflict with yours.
In 1989 I believed that would cease to exist sometime within the next three years. I believed this because I had made a deal with our Creator. That deal went back to the year 1972, which was not a pleasant time for your humble correspondent.
The situation within the Trzupek household on the southeast side of Chicago in 1972 was complicated. It was not so complicated as to justify a call to law enforcement or to even children and family services in today’s iteration of that government program. But things were complicated enough to distress the 12-year-old version of yours truly into making a deal with God: Let me get through the madness and in exchange take my life in 20 years. Such deals appear to be bargains to the adolescent mind. It’s rather another story when payment comes due. In 1989, payment was just around the corner.
Two important, life changing events occurred in 1989 that would alter the way I thought about creation and my place in it forever. In March 1989 my daughter Sara, my only biological child, was born. Three months later my father, Walter S. Trzupek, passed away on June 23.
Somewhere among my disorganized possessions there exists a picture of my 72-year-old father, looking much older and enfeebled than he ought, sitting on a chair, holding my infant daughter. It would be the only picture of the two of them that would ever exist. I don’t mind that I haven’t been able to find it because it is indelibly etched in my mind. I have seen it clearly virtually every day of my life.
My dad and I had a somewhat complicated relationship. I was something of a wild man as a young adult, which did not meet with dad’s approval. Nonetheless, there is nobody I admire more. As a young man he dropped out of high school to find work and support his family during the Great Depression. He was a man who valued truth and personal honor above all and he passed those traits down to his children.
He was also certainly a racist by today’s terms, at least in words if not in actual deeds. But at the same time he dealt with people as individuals, not as members of groups. In any case I find it difficult to accept accusations of “white privilege” about a man whose parents immigrated from a country that had been denied sovereign existence for 123 years and many of whose citizens lived in servitude long after America freed its slaves.
Witnessing my daughter being born remains the most joyous day of my life. I freely own the many, many mistakes that I made as a parent – as all parents do – but I remain convinced that I have done nothing better in my life than being part of bringing her into being.
Seeing my father’s body, I guess “corpse” is the honest term, lying in his hospital bed, the evidence of the pain that accompanied his death throes still evident on his face, remains the saddest day of my life. I’ve never known such sadness as I knew that day.
The two events are indelibly connected in my memory and in my heart. Mike and Mechanics hit song “The Living Years” was popular at the time. It’s concluding lyrics never fail to bring tears to my eyes: “I wasn’t there that morning when my father passed away. I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say. Think I caught his spirit later that same year. I’m sure I heard his echo in my baby’s new born tears.”
I share this story this Christmas season as a reminder. The gift of the Christ Child is a story of redemption and hope and the value of life. Despair need not be feared, for ultimately – even though it’s often hard to see – life wins.