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Rhythms: An Elegy to My Father

After experiencing my first West African Drumming Circle with Leah Ivory two months ago, I planned to write about the rhythm of life for my next post. I planned to wax philosophic about how the universe has a heartbeat and blah-blah-blah. But, I couldn't write it. I was flying to Texas the next day to visit my father who had been struggling for two months with a mysterious illness leaving him weak, unable to eat or drink--or even swallow.

The team at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston weren't able to diagnosis his ailment, but found some treatment in steroids, so he was released to a rehab center where he might at least become stronger. Upon seeing my normally robust football-player-and-coach-of-a-father, I was startled to find him pale, thin, and dehydrated. As I wheeled him around the grounds, his skin would flake off of him like confetti at a slow parade, and he was visibly agitated by three months of battling for his life.

But, he also seemed determined to fully recover; he would practice his swallowing and would enthusiastically perform his physical therapy. Our family even held an NCAA party in his hospital room one day--and took him home for two hours for a birthday party on another. Flying back to Michigan, I was hopeful; he was slated to go home within days and the visit from nine of his family members and raucous parties like old times clearly energized him.

Still I didn't write the post. Still I couldn't find the rhythm. Still I couldn't sound the drum.

A month later, my father passed away, moaning, thrashing, and raging until the very end. He was a big man--literally and figuratively--and he leaves an equally large hole in my life. My rhythm has halted with the halting of his beating, gigantic heart. Mick DeVoe is gone.

What I learned from Leah Ivory, djembe drummer and all-around shining light, is that we can learn different rhythms--some are more difficult to embrace, others are easier--and each one has an intention: a mirroring of an emotion, an ushering of a season, a celebration of a rite of life, a wish for a bountiful crop. And, we all have a rhythm that feels right to us, that we can settle into and be comforted in. And, when we all drum what pleases us together at the same time, what at first seems cacophonous, blends into beautiful syncopation--a common, beautiful rhythm lifting up community emerges.

I drum, I drum, I drum--and my community is there to lift me up.


The day you wheeled the Toronado home,

your rough hands smoothing it into the driveway,

sweat curling through your mustache in August heat.

The leather was strangely cool in my first introduction

to air conditioned muscle cars,

and powered windows,

and sparkly paint.

A gift to your teen.

Daughter and daughter

and laughter and laughter.

It was totaled within a month.

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