Dad was born a twin. His brother Edward was big and strong. But Dad, being the runt at two pounds, was immediately put in an incubator.
That’s why his parents were shocked when it was Edward who died in a diarrhea epidemic that killed all the babies in the nursery.
Dad remained in intensive care where his parents prayed over him every night. One day, a nun from the hospital gave his father a pin. “It’s been blessed by the Pope and it’s already performed two miracles,” she boasted to my Jewish grandfather, who promptly followed her instructions and pinned it to Dad’s undershirt.
That night, my little dad began to get stronger and the stage was set for a chain of miracles.
Dad grew up on Warner’s Lake where his sense of adventure often led him into to danger. One summer afternoon, his mom spotted his baby shoes at the end of the dock. They called to her like a warning sign: "Where was Dalt and what was he doing without his shoes?" She rushed down to pick up the shoes and found Dad drowning in the water below. Apparently this happened to Dad a lot, as more than one neighbor has stories about pulling him out from the bottom of the lake.
She bronzed Dad's life-saving baby shoes and set him up with a giant police dog named Teddy to keep an eye on him. One day, Dad was spying on the neighborhood villain who was bunkered down in a dugout deep in the forest. Of course, Dad thought it would be fun to throw rocks at him. And it was…until the guy started firing back with a hunting rifle. Dad said he "shot out of there like a bat outta hell. " Too small for his own speed, he tripped and fell on his face making him an easy target. Thankfully, Teddy was there to drag him away, dodging the storm of bullets.
A member of Special Forces, Dad was selected to help oversee a top-secret mission, later know as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. However when he met with his commanding officers, they were shocked to discover that he was in a full body cast. He was bucked off of a brahma bull in some kind of makeshift rodeo. Although he was disciplined for damaging “army property,” he escaped involvement with this disastrous military invasion.
Dad was on leave from the Army after finishing his first tour. He planned to extend his service for Vietnam at the end of the summer.
But then he found an old sailboat mysteriously washed up on the shore of Warner’s Lake. . .
And then he fixed it up and took his new girlfriend out sailing every Saturday. . .
So when it was time to return to the Army, all he could think about was his new love and that old boat.
At the last minute, he decided not to re-enlist. Everyone in his assigned platoon was killed or captured.
Then there’s the time Dad was working alone on the house and fell off a ladder. Somehow he managed to dial Grandpa’s number for help, but was too weak to speak. Grandpa recognized Dad’s phone by the annoying buzz on the line. He'd always nagged Dad about it. "Jesus Christ, Dalt, when are you going to fix that goddamn phone?" Dad never did and that’s how Grandpa knew to rush over to the house where he found Dad unconscious and barely breathing.
Another time, Dad was sailing alone on Long Island Sound, when he put the boat on autopilot and climbed down the stern ladder to get some fresh water for a lobster he was cooking. Suddenly a rough wave knocked him overboard. He managed to grab the swim ladder and hold on as the boat raced East to England. The icy cold October current was so strong it ripped off his shirt. Miraculously, he managed to muscle himself back on board.
The more I look, the more miracles I find.
Like how Dad, Katrina, and I were hiking when he slipped on the edge of a cliff and screamed, “Hooooly Shiiiit!” as he fell directly on top of a giant rattlesnake.
Or how he was struck by lightning five times.
Or how, never one to shy away from a citizen’s arrest, he wrestled a man known as “Scary Gary” to the ground after he charged into the school with a bayonet.
With all these miracles under his belt, did Dad expect to live? Did he watch the nightly bad news because he hoped to hear them announce the new miracle cure for cancer? Did he think the film I was editing with the door closed would have a happy ending? And in light of all this evidence, how could it not?
"Sometimes our lives hang over the edge on a thick chain and sometimes they dangle on a thin thread," Dad once told me.
Maybe that's what a miracle is.
Not a divine rescue, just an expression of the unknowable.
A magic trick where the illusion of a thick chain is snapped when it turns out to be cheap cadmium and the little string holds strong, made out of spider silk, tough enough to weave a sail.