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5. Orange Aide

Being a novice meditator,
I still cling.

My father died four years ago, yesterday, a few minutes ago, this moment. The moment of his dying now forever engraved in memory such that it now holds permanent residency status in every moment of my life.

For me to be present in the moment is to be immersed in his dying.

Today during my meditation I find it particularly difficult to detach myself from the loss. The present moment colored still by sadness, regrets, fears. Grief over the loss of someone I loved dearly, concern that I did not do everything I could to make his passing peaceful, fear about my own death, and as I meditate, perhaps fear of surrendering to this moment -- a moment now so full of despair. And today, the day that marks the anniversary of his "passing," especially so.

Yet in this moment I know that my father has not passed. I know with certainty because I won't let him. As a fearful child clings to a parent, I cling to the painful image I have of him during his final hours. I just cannot let him go. His last breath haunts me. Meditating is too painful today. I cut it short. I go to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast.

I peel the orange and place the segments on my plate. Wiping away tears, I take my glass of water and plate of orange segments to the kitchen table, but cannot eat because now I am reminded of my father's early evening ritual. A few years before his death my father decided to heed his doctor's warning, and reluctantly gave up drinking -- alcohol, that is. So instead of having his pre-dinner beer or two, he began drinking orangeade -- a mixture of orange concentrate (or something thick and sugary that resembled orange concentrate) and water. When I asked my mother about this seemingly strange substitute, she told me it was something about the sweetness that he said curbed his craving for alcohol. Every evening at around 5 pm he would begin the ritual of preparing and consuming his 'apperatif.' First, he would select just the right glass -- tall, clear, thin, one that had a lovely ring when he tapped it with one meticulously clean finger nail -- one stored just for him in the cocktail cabinet in the dining room where the special sherry glasses were kept; none of those patterned glasses that my mother kept in the kitchen could be used to hold this fine orangeade. He would then take this special glass to the kitchen, set it on the counter, and go to the cupboard-under-the stairs, cum-pantry, to get his giant, economy bottle of orange concentrate. With a bartender's precision he would pour an inch of concentrate into his glass, double-check to ensure that he had just the right amount, and then take his glass to the faucet at the kitchen sink to fill it with water. With a long spoon, he stirred it, being careful not to bruise those not-so-delicate flavors now merging in his glass -- the corner grocery store's brand name orange concentrate and the public water system's also concentrated water. The final touch -- not one, not two, but three ice-cubes. Anyone who has ordered a drink with ice in a pub in England will know just how generous he was being with himself. He would take his drink to his favorite armchair and, once settled comfortably, would raise his glass: "Good Health," he would toast to no-one in particular. Only then would he take his first sip. He happily nursed this drink for an hour while my mother cooked dinner.

I witnessed this routine and the transformation of my father's long-held drinking habits during one of my trips home to England. It was incredible to see the once hard-drinking man that I had known all my life, for better and worse, now in his 80s quite happily nursing his glass of orangeade. "Do you miss your beer, Daddy" I had asked him. "No," he had replied, looking at his glass with pleasure. A man of few words; that had not changed.

I begin to eat the orange segments on my plate and drink my glass of water, a feeling of pleasure now welling up in me as I remember his happy face on that day. Suddenly it occurs to me that my father may have managed to slip a little something besides those three ice-cubes in his glass when no-one was watching. I chuckle and eat another orange segment. My father is no longer dying in this moment.