Two-Year Anniversary

July 17, 2005 - Written in Riverhead, NY

Dear Dad,

I’ve taken the past two days off to spend some time reflecting on yet another year without you. As an Agoglia, you know too well how busy we can get. I knew, however, that I would take some time off and this will probably become an annual tradition for me around this date.

It’s so hard for me when I go to your gravesite, simply, because I know you’re not going to be there in person. You won’t be there to greet me as you always did when I returned home from college. I won’t be standing by your side with my arm around your shoulder, looking at grandpa’s epitaph or some other dear relative. To my chagrin, I stand there alone, looking at your stone. This is your site. It’s a cold and eerie feeling. It’s the place where we left you and, then drove off with only four in the car, a feeling that seems too scandalous and outright disrespectful. In many ways, it feels like something you see in a movie. But this is no movie. This is no nightmare. It’s a reality that’s very hard to accept. I clean off the top of your stone and then water the plants that lie at the base. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something for you, knowing full well, that my actions point to a much deeper desire - to have you home.

"Our courteous Lord does not want His servants to dispair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder Him in loving us. - Lady Julian of Norwich

As I sit here and write this, the night is still. The breeze is gentle, offering comfort from the arid air we’ve had for the past few days. Noticing the vast, open space, there’s not a soul to be seen or heard. The radiant moon reaches down and casts her shadow on the earth and graces the plush fields. The stillness causes me to sense your absence which is good because it helps me remember all the events that took place the day you entered into eternity.

I know I’ve told you plenty of times already, but I cannot help but express how much I miss you. We all miss you. There’s not a week that goes by that we discuss how we wish things were different. Much like the frustration of losing the last piece to a puzzle, you’re the missing piece left out of our family. It’s hard to see the big picture because it’s a little skewed now. But I guess one could also question if we really ever had the big picture in the first place. There will inevitably always be a large void in our lives and nothing could ever replace that vacancy felt within our souls.

With all the writings and reflections I’ve done since you’ve left, these letters are the closest connection I have to you. They express the feelings that pound against the walls of my heart. My words spew out. They’re raw and sporadic, sometimes offering no clear connection from one thought to another. But the process of writing helps me stay close to you in some, small way. It allows me to see the cornerstone you were in my life. And hopefully this process will keep me grounded, reminding me that you were a gift, a gift I never really deserved.
The other day I was reminded of some unique trait you had. You always did things to the extreme. Never succumbing to just doing a menial task, you always went far beyond what you were asked to do. And, typically, you exceeded the expectations of others. When asked to walk ten miles, you went twenty, and then ran another five. If someone needed help, you not only offered your advice, but you stepped in to become part of the solution.

I’m reminded of this extremeness in how I prepare a homemade spaghetti meal. Whenever I can, I make the sauce from scratch. I purchase several hors doeuvres from the local Italian store and prepare a hearty salad, coloring it with a variety of items. But when it comes to deciding how much spaghetti to put into the boiling water, I always make far more than I need. Ironically, this obvious flaw of mine always reminds me of your extremeness. You always had a way of giving way more than you needed. There was no limit to your love. And it seemed this wellspring of care seemed to grow deeper each year. I believe a large part of this came from your walk with God, for the more you spent time with him, the greater the depth your reservoir became.

On several occasions I seem to recall how you wanted to give me something of yours, usually an item you recently purchased. It was rare that you went shopping. You were always content wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and a pair of work shoes. However, if you did go out with mom for something, the item would often be found in the closest with the tags still on them. And then on visits home from college, you would, in typical fashion, go into the closet and say that you had something you wanted me to have. I would have to stand there and argue with you because you always gave away what was yours. Little did I ever fully understand that this was such a large part of you, that your giving could never be prohibited or refrained - not even for a moment.

About two months before your illness, I had a conversation with you by phone. Within that discussion, I was floored at how many people you were helping. The list seemed endless and the needs were great. Whether it be your critical responsibilities at NYU, family obligations, or volunteer work, you’re heart was clearly in helping people. But you weren’t content with just helping people; you were concerned about caring for them.
People still talk about the largeness of your heart. When they share how you went out of your way to assist them, they always return to one main thought – how special they felt around you.

I have to believe that your upbringing had a large part in developing this special love within you. A perfect example is our visits with Great-Grandma Agoglia. I used to watch you talk with her and encourage her with your wonderful humor. She would share about different relatives from the past and you would intently listen. I was too young to really understand the preciousness of those moments with her. But I do remember watching your interactions with her. You loved her very much. You grew up with her. You observed and learned much from her.

But on this one particular occasion, great grandma called me by her side and shared that she had something for me. She guided me over to her dresser and slowly opened one of the draws. Buried underneath some items, she located something which appeared to be a tan ball, when it was actually one of her tightly wrapped stockings (only in my family). She slowly unwound the ball. Upon completion, I noticed that the tan stocking encompassed a white sock. She carefully unwrapped the sock until she came to a tightly wrapped paper towel. Slowly the process of unwrapping began yet once again. With each corner being lifted, my anticipation and curiosity grew even more. Finally, the gift was unveiled. It was a razor with disposable blades. She won this at a bingo contest she entered at the nursing home. Although I was a little confused, I thanked my grandmother. I was only about eight or nine years old so my need for a razor at that time was a little premature.

Nonetheless, out of that experience I learned two things. The first idea gleaned is the careful care my great grandmother took into wrapping this gift for me. Already past the age of ninety, she still went to the extreme of protecting that item. In my opinion, it would seem unnecessary to go to that extent of wrapping the razor. But for her, it was important. The second thing I gained was that she gave what she had. Although I had no need for that product, especially at that time, she gave all that she had to me. What more could someone give?
As I look at that experience, I can clearly begin to see and appreciate the great heritage I’ve been given. Little did I know that at that age, when most of the world revolved around selfish me, I would learn a priceless lesson 25 years later. There are other stories of this extreme love that helped carefully build your life through your family and, in time, I pray I can recognize them and extract wonderful principles.

But I would also say that this extreme lesson in love was part of your destiny. It was a developmental process whereby a real life was transformed for many to see, and now we’re all learning from you. As I shared earlier, your ability to love seemed to grow each year as your relationship with God matured. There is no question, in my opinion, that there was a direct correlation between the two. God, who cannot do anything but love, built something inside of you that I am just beginning to understand. I was amazed at your passion for God and your desire to know him more. I believe many of us, because we fail to work on that relationship, fail to understand why your thirst to know and relate to him meant so much to you. Like foreigners, we can only stand by the side and commend your desire to know him. I’m not certain many of us ever get to that level of intimacy. I just knew your walk with God was not driven by ritual, legalism, or some other selfish motive other than your intense love for him.

This drives home the point that our good deeds, although quite meaningful and important to our lives, are really limited. Left on our own, we can love people and give of ourselves. We can move from the inside and begin living lives focused on the outside. Yet, I believe our capacity to love can been increased, substantially, when we go directly to the One who envelopes all love. If he is the source for our ability to love him and love others, then why do we fail to work on that relationship?

There are several reasons one could give for why many of us fail at this. One of the reasons is our distorted perception of God. Most of us see God as a distant, cold, far removed being making it hard to relate to him. Others see him as a God to be greatly feared and, therefore, there is no room for intimacy. He just sits there waiting to strike us down the next time we fail.

Scripture demonstrates something wholly different. We find a God who waits patiently for us. We see him as a God who is searching for us. Surprisingly, we find him more in the company of sinners than with holy people. It seems he’s more comfortable with them. Just when someone is about to cast judgment, we find Christ offering mercy and forgiveness.

How is it that we’ve gotten this picture of Christ all wrong? I confess, dad, that I’ve wrestled with this mindset for a good part of my life. We're often encouraged to seek God, spend time with him in his word, and openly communicate our hearts to him. The onus seems to be on our doing which I feel is important. However, because we see God as someone who is cold and rules with a dictorial thumb, we can’t juxtapose this concept of an intimate relationship with a distorted image of God. If we could see God as Scripture portrays him, then, I believe we would see his great zeal to be with us. He wants to convey his love for us, especially when others have projected a broken sort of love upon us. When others have failed us, he wants us to see that he loves differently. And yes, even when our loved ones pass on, he wants us to know that he too experienced loss while on earth, and now, can understand our hurts when we hurt. He knew what it was like to receive the news that Lazarus had died. And he also knew what it was like to feel alone and abandoned on the cross by his own father.

Dad, as challenging as it is to work on this relationship with Christ, it is because of you and mom that I can still walk with him. One might think that being around other gifted theologians in college and seminary helped me to fully embrace my faith. Of course their input and tutelage was invaluable. But as Rich Mullins once said, “I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be the nuts and bolts." That sums up you and mom. You both lived your lives doing something far greater than being parents. It was in the mundane, day to day, hour by hour, incident by incident, that I learned about Jesus. Jesus became real to me primarily because I saw two, caring individuals willing to work through, and even love through, this thing called life.

It’s just two years into this journey, dad, and I still wish I could talk with you in person. I would love to walk with you down the road I’m currently looking at. I obviously can’t do that anymore, at least at this time. But I will continue writing you since it helps me express the love I have for you. The days of missing you seem to get longer with each passing month. But as the missing gets stronger, may my love and capacity to love others increase as did yours.

Love you always,