Twenty-two years ago today, my father died in Jaipur, India, on the last day of Diwali. His children and wife were halfway around the world in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
I should preface all of this by telling you how tremendously ambivalent I’ve been writing about today. Making a personal doc, it’s tough to decide what’s off limits in your life. In some ways, nothing really is, especially with material like Unbroken Glass—trauma that has colored a lot of how I lived and viewed my life. At what point can I put the camera down, tell the crew and my editor to fuck off, and just have some time to myself? Part of me wanted to spend today like that, and not write about it or even capture anything about it on film.
Originally the word “anniversary” was especially meant to describe the date of someone’s death. It doesn’t take too much imagination to kind of figure out why that might be. I think when you’re contemplating your own death, the worst thing that you can conceive of is being forgotten. Similarly, when you have a loved one who has died, the worst thing you can imagine is forgetting them. Designating the day that they died annually as a way to remember them doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
It also happens to be the day that everything changed, yet another reason you don’t want to forget it. This is the event, the inciting incident. His death was what started this whole mess. Simply put, if he didn’t die, my mom probably wouldn’t have committed suicide, and I’d have grown up with parents. When I was younger I spent too much time beating my head on what had happened, what might have been if it hadn’t. This is the process, I guess, of wrapping your head around trauma. That matured into the tiny melancholy of observing today the lack of a father.
I realize that anniversaries are overly sentimental affairs, perhaps by design. In the documentary, I’ve engaged in real nostalgia, over-sentimentality, and self-pity in degrees that were perhaps unhealthy and indulgent. It was what I needed at the time. In crafting the film, I realize that too much sentimentality is not something I’m really interested in, (perhaps in art in general), it lacks a kind of relevance outside its own emotional weight. Sentimentality, outside of the handful of people who are touched by it, is simply emotion for the sake of emotion. I worry that it simply inspires pity and nothing more, no compassion or understanding.
That being said, over the last few years, I think I’ve been searching for some kind of significance to this date outside of the weight of its own trauma. The first few decades were just processing, but lately I’ve been striving for some kind of meaning. That might be the ultimate goal, the legacy of Unbroken Glass.
I remember a few years ago I consciously decided that I would spend this date more as a celebration than as something mournful. The idea was to celebrate Dwarka Das Sabu’s legacy more than the lack of Dwarka Das Sabu. The family he started in this country, the people his life touched. I see my dad as someone who grabbed life, got all kinds of shit started, and then got grabbed by life. He kicked up all of this creation: my siblings and me, his career, all on these shores halfway around the world. The fact that he didn’t get to see it through is sad, but we’re here to play out all of this great stuff he got into. The stuff of life, I suppose.
Recently I was in Albuquerque to liberate some old photographs for the documentary. I put most of them in a suitcase, about 40 pounds worth of disorganized photos from my past and beyond.
Somehow one of them must have found its way into my bag, and it slipped out the other morning. Probably from the early seventies, my parents are more or less the age that I am currently. They’re my peers in this photograph.
One thing that has been happening lately is my ability to conceive of both of them as people, human beings with desires, hopes, and flaws. I look at this picture of my dad and mom, and I want them to be like old friends. I want to be able to go over to their apartment and drink some beer with them and talk about their lives, maybe play some bridge.
The anniversary really just starts today. I’ve always kind of marked the progression of the month from today’s date to that date in early December when my mother passed away. There’s something comforting about the fact that it’s in the months of November and December, as autumn passes into winter. Lately the observation of these anniversaries has taken a more abstract tone, watching the seasons pass, thinking about death and time, and observing my own life and its march into the future.
Recently, I was compelled to pick up some Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet whose battered volume of The Prophet I can remember vividly from my father’s bookshelf. There’s a passage that I’m struck by today:
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.