Zen Motorcyclist : Gently They Go
A few columns ago I was happy to announce my marriage to Dawn. She was raised in southern South Carolina, where her parents still reside. I had spoken with Dawn’s mother and father, Beverly and Jim, prior to our marriage, though we had never met. Shortly after our elopement, Dawn and I planned a trip south to meet for the occasion of a surprise party for Dawn’s stepfather, Tom, whom Beverly affectionately refers to as Thomas. “Mom and Tom” are a loving couple and could not have been sweeter to me. If you’ve ever had any trepidation about meeting in-laws, they are the two you always hoped you would meet. We ended the evening of laughs with an episode of Downton Abbey and a scotch.
The next day, Dawn and I took the short drive to visit Jim Sharp, Dawn’s father (pictured), who lived in the home Dawn was raised in, which she lovingly refers to as “the farm.” Mr. Sharp’s first words to me were, “I didn’t think you’d be this tall,” and after we talked for a while, Dawn took me for a walk around the property she grew up on, telling me about days spent practicing gymnastics routines, of walking through the fields hunting arrowheads (she has an extensive collection), and of jumping from the bridge and swimming in the creek at the edge of the property with her brother David.
Jim tossed me the keys to his gorgeous Yamaha V-Star Classic cruiser, and Dawn and I spent an hour or so riding the country roads she walked and ran in her youth. February in Pennsylvania is almost never conducive for riding, so it was a joy to ride in the South Carolina sunshine while Dawn recounted memories from her childhood. Later the three of us sat in the sun talking about gardens and music. It was a lovely day.
Sadly, a few weeks later Dawn called me at work to say her dad had suffered a fall at home. As it happened, his health was such that he was unable to recover and a day later we learned he had passed away. I am happy to have had the chance to meet my wife’s father. I saw much of her in him. He had planted a large garden, was a motorcyclist, a seeker, and a gifted drummer (as was my father) who, while he was in the service, once sat in for B.B. King and became the toast of the base.
I know my wife to be endlessly kind, giving, loving, ceaselessly energetic, forgiving and strong in ways I can only hope to be. She’s never unloved anyone; it’s not in her. It’s easy to love her and equally easy to see the seeds of that love in her family. In the 20 years since my father’s passing, I’ve come to recognize his virtues still alive in me, and in speaking with Mr. Sharp I saw my father in him. He was kind, accepting, engaging, and honest. I think he saw that his daughter was happy and found that a comfort.
My daughter, Devon, married a kind man and it brought me joy to realize that. It’s my hope that Jim Sharp felt that same sense that his role in raising a happy child resulted in her choosing someone who was similarly kind and brought her joy. I like to think that when we left that day, he was content that Dawn was happy and that some of the regrets all parents feel were eased.
I liked the man, and you would have too. That’s all I can say. Dawn and I have discussed her learning to ride on her father’s bike. I love that possibility and the thought that part of him and a memory of that ride and afternoon in the South Carolina sunshine with her father will always be ours to share.
Jim Sharp helped shape the life of someone you would be fortunate to come across, someone who would smile broadly at meeting you and extend every possible courtesy your way. He was a talented musician, a motorcyclist, and a seeker, who (to paraphrase a favorite by Ralph Waldo Emerson) left the world a little bit better by healthy children and a garden patch. His is a legacy of devotion seen through the eyes of his children and of music that brought joy to many.
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind; Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. —Edna St. Vincent Millay, from Dirge Without Music