There are a lot of lessons to be had from sitting at the bedside of a dying man, and most of them are quite unexpected. I’ve spent the past several weeks attending to my 86 year old father, with crises and recoveries and dashed expectations and last-minute rallies and false hopes and crushing disappointments and tender moments.
But one lasting piece of knowledge I’ve taken away from all this is that…Mark Twain is far best appreciated when his words are read aloud.
I wouldn’t have know that but for the man I’ve share pretty much everything with for the past couple of years. I keep thinking that he’s finally run out of surprises, but… soon after it became habit to spend our evenings visiting my father in hospice care, he showed up with a copy of “Tom Sawyer” and started reading it aloud.
Now I remember watching “Tom Sawyer” on a black and white television set when I was a kid, multiple times. And I’m sure that at some point in my education, I’ve had to read the book as well. At the very least, I’ve read “Huck Finn” a couple of times, always under educational or professional duress.
And I don’t recall laughing out loud at any of it, until now. There was just something about letting my imagination run wild with the visuals as the words flowed past my ears that fired my imagination. And slowed down my senses long enough to appreciate the razor-sharp irony that the author imbued every turn of phrase with. Good lord, what fun Mark Twain must have been to sit beside at a dinner party! Of course it helped that this man of mine has more that a little “rapscallion” to him, and I could easily picture him as a youthful Tom Sawyer, chafing at the conventions of society and the cuffs of Aunt Polly.
But just a few nights later, my oldest daughter came to visit with her husband, and I asked them to read from the book as well. As I sat cross-legged on the floor and held my dad’s frail hand, my son-in-law took the first turn, followed by my daughter reading another chapter. The one she ended up with was Tom’s laboriously self-pitying and melodramatic decision to run off and become a pirate. She couldn’t keep a straight face, and the narrative was punctuated by giggles, both hers and mine.
My father passed on in the wee hours of this morning, and I am bleary-eyed with both exhaustion and the intricacies of funeral planning.
But from time to time I think back to those evenings spent reading “Tom Sawyer” at the bedside of an old soldier. And every time, it still makes me smile!