For about a month now, I have been basking in the stories that make up Simon Van Booy’s new book, The Illusion of Separateness. The book isn’t really a fable with a point. It is better than that in every way. But now that I have been thinking about it for a while, a “point” has emerged and here it is: if you are thinking of doing something good for someone, don’t put it off. Do it now.
I find myself being pulled toward “now” as the right time because we never really know whether “later” is going to happen. Will there actually be a “later?” Will “later” actually be better than now? When you think about it, and even more after you have been too late a few times, you come to the conclusion that “now” might just be the best time.
Here’s an example. I wrote a tribute for my father in 1974. He was about the age that I am now. I thought about this tribute for the better part of a year. I was living in Oregon at the time; he was in Ohio. So I thought a piece of driftwood might attach the tribute to me. I imagined that he might show it to a friend and say, “My son, Dale, found this on the beach in Oregon. He lives there, you know.” And I found a calligrapher to do the printing for me. In Eugene, Oregon, that wasn’t hard.
What was hard was getting the words right. I knew exactly what I wanted to say. Nearly everything I know about wholeness of intention and of personal integrity I learned from watching him or listening to him.
I don’t think I could have written that earlier in my life. I could not have understood, earlier, just what the gift was that Dad had given me. I don’t think I would have had the language, either, to say just what I meant and Dad was someone who knew how to value saying just what you meant.
In this poem, I picture myself as a voyager; someone who would have to rely on things like stars and compasses. Compasses can go looney for one reason or another, however, and stars don’t do that. On the other hand, I didn’t want to say that my father was the star by which I supplemented and corrected my own directional readings. That would have been too much and the man for whom I was writing this would have known it was too much and would have rejected it on those grounds. He wouldn’t have been nasty about it. He would just have withheld himself from it emotionally. As we say today, he wouldn’t really “buy in” to it.
And I didn’t want to say that I was not “a man,” as the voyager was. What I did want to say that the right time to see that severe brilliance is when you are a boy. When you become a man, you learn what to do with it and you learn how urgently you need it. But the time when you most need it is not the time to have the experiences on which it will later be formulated. That is the time to reach into yourself and use the materials that someone else put there and to make them what you need.
What I did want to say was that out of my experience of him, I had fashioned a “star” and that I relied on it for guidance. The “hard white light” is a notion that came from seeing stars, something Dad and I used to do together, and it occurred to me that Dad’s integrity could be pictured just that way. He would have known that about himself. He wouldn’t have put it that way, but the man I was writing for would have understood what I was talking about.
But “the man I was writing for,” the father of my first 25 years, was not there anymore by the time I gave him this poem in 1974. By the 1980’s, everyone knew it was Alzheimer’s disease. What we knew in the 1970’s was that Dad had lost something and the thing he had lost was what he would have needed to take this piece of wood in his hands and to know that he had a son who was grateful for this wonderful gift.
I don’t really regret waiting until 1974 to make this gift and give it to him because I could not have done it earlier. I do think that the experience of waiting too long has made me more sensitive to how important it is to recognize the gift you have to give and to give it now.
 I have heard that there was once a company called Tate’s that made compasses. The company didn’t last long because the compasses were unreliable. According to the legend, this is the source of the saying, “He who has a Tate’s, is lost.” I don’t really believe it myself but something deep in me wishes it were true.