Monday, October 10, 2016

Remembering John Worra (1935-2006)

Today, October 10th marks the 10th year since my father passed away in Tipton, Michigan. It’s also the 10th anniversary since I began my blog, On The Other Side of the Eye, which I’d started while visiting home to help take care of dad in the final stages of cancer.

It’s been helpful to be able to go back to the earlier entries I’d had to mark the day, and taught me a lot about how do we remember the people who raised us. To consider how our memories, our feelings change over time, and what stays the same. What are the important things, the lingering words? Some I’ve found, can be shared with the world, while some stay with you privately.

One of the hard parts about a father’s funeral is the immediate flurry of stories you’re told, the respects friends, old classmates and distant relatives of his pay. You’ll try hard to remember as much as you can, but in that day, and the weeks that follow, there’s still so much to take care of, that a lot slips away. I’m always brought to mind Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “People” and the line “Of whom, essentially, what did we know?"

It’s become a bit of a ritual, then, each year to write down a short summation of his life. That he was a pilot. And as I knew him, he loved to work among machines and tools. When he wasn’t flying he loved to be in his garage, machining things, fixing things for the house. Dad was born in South Haven, Michigan in 1935. When he turned 18, he enlisted in the US Army, and by 1961 was working for Zantop Airlines. In 1971, he took a job flying in Southeast Asia for Royal Air Lao. This would last until 1973, when he would go back to work again for Zantop Airlines in the United States.

It was in January, 1973, that he and his family adopted me, and I came to the United States. The rest turns into a complicated story for another day. In the 1980s he began flying for UPS and and would stay with them for almost a decade when retired 1997. These are, of course, dates that are largely significant only for my family, but it creates something of a history, a timeline by which we might consider our relationship to the rest our community and the global events that shape us.

Of course, there are days I look back and wonder how much Dad would understand the journey I’ve had to take. There were many things he tried to share and pass on to me, and there were times when he came to understand there were parts of my path that would have to be very different from his. But he came to see that much of the work I did was important, even beyond making a paycheck. So, I’m appreciative of that, even if we didn’t always see eye to eye on some social issues. But there was room enough in the world for both views.

2006 was a turning point for me, and in the next year I would release my first full-length collection of poetry, On The Other Side Of The Eye, which in turn led to much of my modern literary career and the work I’ve done since. And now, ten years later? There are often moments I wonder if I lived up to his expectations and hopes, if I did something of merit that vindicates everything we’d all gone through together. I think we’d be honest enough to say that more could have been done, but what we’ve done thus far was not insignificant.

But on a personal level, this year, shortly after what would have been my father’s 81st birthday, I took vows briefly as a Buddhist monk at the Wat Lao in Modesto near my birth family. Following that, I went on to a number of significant events such as speaking at the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the National Lao American Writers Summit in San Diego, teaching writers at Kearny Street Workshop and now assuming the duties of President of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. My father loved to travel, and I suppose no small part of my time this year has been spent on the road, trying to figure out, what next?

This year, it’s the Year of the Monkey in the Asian traditions, and I think often of Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey and the mythic figure of the Monkey King. It’s been a year where I’m inclined to be acutely aware of the meandering turns any life can take if you don’t accept a traditional path for yourself. My father didn’t. I, too, did not have the ability to go on a more routine road. It’s not without its challenges. But if you approach life with gratitude and an open mind, there’s tremendous joy to be embraced.

So, for all of you who’ve been a part of my family’s journey, I thank you for that, and I look forward to wherever the years ahead take us next. Now, it’s time go be a part of the day, a cosmos vast and infinite, full of wonders.

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