My father never forgot and would mention it from time to time. "Did you ever read that book?" he would ask, and I would inwardly squirm, make excuses and intend to do so...soon.
I knew that it would mean a lot to him if I read it--traveled the land within its pages--go where he had gone before: Chesapeake.
Recently I scanned my bookshelves, pulling off books for a writing exercise. The assignment was to look at first lines, as many as possible within a few hours, and then to type up ten or twenty favourites and consider what made them work. I included Chesapeake, curious to see what its first line was. It was a good one:
"For some time now they had been suspicious of him."
As I flipped through the first pages to find that line, there was his name in block letters on the flyleaf.
The firm hand and distinctive style belonged to the father I knew before his final illness, when his writing became spidery and his hand frail. And I felt a pang of regret.
A memory surfaced then. It was many years ago, and I was looking forward to a trip to England to be with my parents for three weeks. I'd been reading the book of John back then too, and I thought that anyone reading it must surely see what I could see--the revolutionary way Christ overturned "religion" and reached out to the world in love, relationship, and sacrifice. The book has twenty one chapters--perfect for three weeks. I asked my father if he would read a chapter a day with me. He said no. I can see now that he probably panicked, he being an atheist and me, maybe overwhelming.
A few days later, curled up in my favourite recliner, I was reading the gospel of John. I love the mystery of it--the sense of God trying to get through to people, but nothing being understood by those he was trying to communicate with, everyone seeming to be at cross purposes, although we, like readers of all good stories, are able to see clearly from the outside looking in and want to shout at the characters, "Wake up! Can't you see?"
Remembering that made me feel less guilty. We both missed opportunities to connect on something important to the other. I did have reasons for not getting to a book he loved but which is very long, and he had his own reasons for not wanting to read mine. We didn't overcome our barriers then, but now mine have gone. I have time to read all 864 pages and I am. Chesapeake is off the shelf.