Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Belated Father's Day: Three Bill Baggott Stories on Faith, God, and Luck

I.
My father, Bill Baggott, is a young man -- maybe 18 or 20. He takes a girl on a date. They drive out to some water where there are gambling boats -- slots and stuff. He has almost no money. He tells the girl that he doesn't gamble. "It's not fair," he says.
"Not fair?" the girl asks.
"I'm lucky. I always win. It's not fair to use my gift like that. It's too easy."
She believes him kind of but keeps goading. "Let me see," she says.
He continues  to tell her that he's a good guy. He has rules about this kind of thing. It's just not fair.
Finally, the girl says she doesn't believe him. "You're lying."
Feeling really pushed, he says, "Okay, okay. I'll show you but I'm only going to do it once. That's it. You can't ask me again."
She agrees.
He walks up to a nickle slot machine, puts his nickel in, and pulls the lever.
And he wins. "See?" he says with a sad sigh. "I told you."
It's a blessing, a curse.
I think there's something elemental about my Dad in this story. If you believe you're lucky, you are -- even if you know you can probably only pull it off once.
He's a trickster, sure, and a storyteller, creative, and funny.
But the flip of this story is the one of him holding my oldest sister for the first time -- a tiny newborn with a shock of dark hair. He thought to himself -- at 24 -- after growing up with very little money, getting scholarships and government money for college and law school, "I've gotten the chance to hold this baby. It's more than I deserve and if this is all I ever accomplish, the only thing I'm ever given, I'll have lived a great life."
THAT is a great way to live. We're lucky. From one certain moment on, it's all more than we deserve. It's a gift, this life. Turns out, he had more to give and receive. He's 77.


II.
My father wakes up from a dream in the middle of the night. God has spoken to him directly. My father is a believer but in a hard-to-pin down way. Episcopalian, he signed off to raise us Catholic, went to church each Sunday, but didn't go up for communion. My mother handled issues of religion really. That was her area.
So he's surprised to hear from God, but the message was clear: Everyone you meet - every single person -- has as many hopes and fears and dreams as you do. Everyone is as human as you.
My father lives this. He treats people with wonder and respect. It's simple. It's very hard. It's seeing humanity.

III.
And just in case you thought he was too much a thinker. Here's one more.
My father's in a crowded city in Europe. He's out walking alone. Likely my mother is back in the hotel room, resting. It's a beautiful city and for no real reason, he asks God to send him a sign. He looks up and sees a feather floating down on a draft.
He's kind of stunned. This isn't the kind of God he really believes in, but he's off through the crowd following the feather. He dodges this way and that, wondering what God's going to tell him with this feather.
He follows the feather until eventually it lands.
He expects to look up and see a church or a religious symbol or something.
But that's it.
The feather just lands there in no really symbolic place.
My father shrugs and walks off.