Every week through Lent, a writer reflects on a journey through a personal wilderness to an unexpected grace. Here, Seán Hewitt reflects on nature’s healing powers in the face of his father’s death
It’s late summer in Dublin (which hardly means much – still the same grey, muggy weather, the dull, dispersed light), and I am walking home from the gym, where I’ve been going more to take my mind off things than to get fit. I take the usual route past the Spar, over the Liffey, jogging a little to beat the traffic lights, and then I turn up the hill to my flat, and a blue transit van is driving down towards me, to the junction at the main road. He flashes his headlights and my heart soars. Instinctively, I jump up, wave, smile, my whole body lifting – my Dad, driving down the road, flashing his lights at me – but then I feel a sudden flush of panic, or grief, and I almost step into the traffic to hide myself, horns beeping everywhere, and I run off uphill all the way home, where I lock the door behind me, and cry, uncontrollably, on the floor of the bedroom until my head is aching and my breathing has settled enough for me to stand up again.
My father has been dead for six weeks. But I only half-live in a world where that fact is true. I see him everywhere. Or rather, I expect to see him everywhere. Each time I turn the corner of a busy street, I imagine him walking up to me. Or when I come home, I expect to find him there, returned, as if nothing had happened. A cliché, yes, but I never knew how true it was until now. The blue transit van, the van my Dad drove every day, was just flashing its lights to let me cross the road, but right now my mind doesn’t know that. Right now, when I see a blue transit van, I see my Dad driving it, and time collapses around me and I am woken momentarily into a different world and my whole body wakes along with me.