Elvis Presley’s birthday was January 8. He would have been 80 years old — if he was alive. Every year, the King of Rock ‘n Roll’s birthday is celebrated around the globe, and I must admit … it astounds me. He passed from this early world almost 38 years ago! How can people acknowledge a mark that celebrates life when (and I do not mean to be crass) there is no life?
What does that have to do with Star Wars? I’ll get to that in just a moment. Please, continue reading …
When I took down our 2014 calendar from the wall and replaced it with that of 2015, I opened it to January. There, leading off the first month — and staring me in the face — was January 1. I smiled a small smile. If he was still alive, we would be celebrating my dad’s 85th birthday. Quite a milestone it would have been had he lived that long. Wow, Dad! Eight-five! Wow! But there is no 85th birthday to celebrate. Come this October, he will have been gone from our lives (in a physical sense) for 10 years. There hasn’t been a single day that has passed that I don’t think about the very special person who was my father. I miss him. Life goes on, of course. While I no longer can enjoy spending time with my dad, he is with me every single day. I feel his quiet presence. I sense his gentle hand on my shoulder encouraging me to be the best person I can be. I hear his measured words urging fairness for all. Most of all, I see the smile on his face that always reached his dark eyes. That smile was all the encouragement I needed to pursue anything life had to offer.
Still wondering how all this relates to Star Wars? I’m getting there, if you’ll just bear with me for a moment or two longer …
Thinking about my dad on January 1 on what would have been his 85th birthday, I found myself settling into a reflective mood. I found a quiet spot for myself — in a chair in which I could plop my body down, stare out the large-paned window at the small, brown expanse that is our yard, and just think, let my mind wander. When I allow it to meander wherever it wants to go (something I encourage everyone to do from time to time), I find myself traveling a myriad of paths. Quite the journey I take. This particular morning was no different.
After a few twists and turns, I revisited a conversation one of my sisters and I had almost a year ago. She loved and cared for our dad, I have no doubt, yet I found her being rather critical of our father on this particular occasion. “It always bothered me when Dad would come home from work, get the newspaper, and sit in that chair in the living room,” she recounted. I remember it well. “We couldn’t bother him until he was done reading. It didn’t matter if we had something to talk to him about. Maybe in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t important, but it was to a 10-year-old or 6-year-old or 14-year-old.” I remember Dad doing that — but I remember sitting in the chair next to his — patiently, I hope 😉 — just enjoying being with him after hours of separation. There was something soothing being in his presence. “He never did anything,” my sister continued to criticize. Her husband got involved in their children’s Little League and softball leagues. Our dad was not that kind of dad. Since none of us (my sisters, brother and I) were athletes, did that really matter? Instead, our dad spent countless hours helping us understand the complexities of algebra, chemistry and calculus. Ours was a father whose actions always spoke louder than his words. I remember the day Tom and I ventured down to Chicago to share some big news with my parents. My mom jumped to the conclusion that we were going to announce we were having our first baby. Boy, was she surprised when we revealed that I had joined the United States Marine Corps! Needless to say, my mom did not take the news well. My dad, on the other hand, said simply that it was not necessarily the path he would have chosen for his oldest child, but since I was determined to do this, he would support me. And he did.
Thinking about my sister’s and my different views of the same individual, I recalled a similar story Tom shared with me years ago. Tom is the youngest boy and second youngest in a family of seven children. With such a large brood, he and his siblings have quipped many a time over the years that they were convinced their parents had so many children so they’d have free labor. lol I doubt that ever entered into the equation, but it certainly worked out that way. 😉 On a trip down to Missouri to visit one of Tom’s brothers and his family, the brothers got to talking about their teen years. “I didn’t like that Dad would make us give up our weekends to go paint an apartment that had been vacated,” Tom’s brother noted. By the tone of his voice, you could tell the memory still irked him. (Their parents owned a few apartment buildings in the metropolis in which they grew up.) Tom didn’t see it that way at all. “Gee, I always took those weekends working with Dad as lessons in responsibility,” Tom countered. “You take on a job, and you have to get it done. And as we got older, it was a way to spend time with Dad. I liked it.”
Isn’t it interesting — and sometimes confounding — how two people can look at exactly the same person or situation, and see that individual or event completely different? Sometimes you wonder if it was possible that the two of you ever were in the same place at the same time!
This line of thinking brought me to Star Wars. “Return of the Jedi” to be exact. See? I told you my musings would lead to Star Wars. Eventually. 😉 My very favorite film moment of the entire saga occurs near the end of ROTJ when Luke realizes he is treading awfully close to the Dark Side boards, regains control of his senses, stands tall before Emperor Palpatine, and after tossing his lightsaber away, proclaims proudly, “I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.”
At that moment, Luke puts into action his view of how he perceives his father — not as Darth Vader, the hard-hearted, cold, evil right hand subject of the powerful Sith Lord, but rather as the empathetic, compassionate, fight-for-truth-and justice Jedi Anakin Skywalker. It wasn’t that Luke ceased being cognizant of everything Anakin did as Darth Vader. He just chose to concentrate his thoughts on the man who had done so much good. Leia, on the other hand, took a lot longer than Luke to come around to view Anakin/Darth Vader in a new light — but that’s understanding since the Dark Lord was directly involved in the annihilation of her home world and the deaths of the populace on the planet at the time of its destruction (for those of you who enjoy the EU, or Legends, as it now is called). While it’s true Luke was not on the Death Star while Leia watched her beloved planet — and her parents along with it — be destroyed, neither was Leia present when Luke’s only family was slaughtered on Tatooine. However, both knew who was responsible for the murders, and they could empathize and sympathize with each other. Likewise, the two watched in horror as Vader slew Obi-Wan Kenobi on the first Death Star. In addition, neither had to witness the countless acts of terror and fear Darth Vader wreaked across the galaxy to know what an evil being he was. Leia had a challenging time getting past all the horrors for which Vader/Anakin was responsible. Yet, Luke sensed the good that still existed in Vader — and fixated on that point. That glimmer of hope caught Luke in its grip, and directly affected how he viewed Vader/Anakin.
Two people find themselves in the same place, live through the same experience, yet emerge with very different impressions. My sister sees our dad one way, I another. Same with Tom and his brother. Who is right? Is either wrong? After contemplating all this — and musing here — I am no closer to an answer to these perplexing questions than I was when I began. In the end, it really isn’t for me to say. The eyes and heart see what they want to see. It really does come down to what is in the eyes of the beholder.
Three hundred thirty-seven days and counting…
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