The yin and yang of popcorn. Photo illustration by Rodney Curtis

I’m popping popcorn. Standing at the stove, I slowly turn the little handle on our ancient popper as one or two kernels escape the vat. It’s unusual for me to be doing this at this hour, 4:30 in the evening. As the kernels twirl, the emotions swirl behind me. 

My oldest daughter and her fiancé ready themselves to fly back to the coast. My youngest daughter and her husband also prepare, but for what, they don’t know. Her husband’s father is gravely ill. He entered the hospital the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. He may not ever leave.

My son-in-law needs me. “Hey, would it be okay if you made me some of your special popcorn before I leave?” he asks.

The request brings tears to my heart. Of course, son, anything! He just left his pop’s side to fly back to Wyoming. Though he and my daughter fear they may have to return here before Christmas.

Fathers with deadly diseases — my own daughters have run that route before. I was beyond lucky; the rough-riding cancer that tumbled into my life was creamed by a cadre of medical professionals, friends & family and even a bit of spiritual mishmash, the kind that gives this Spiritual Wanderer blog its name.

I hope my son-in-law’s father is that lucky. He deserves it. His parents fled Mao to Taiwan. He and his wife came to America. My son-in-law was born here, went to the same high school as my daughters and now serves the country in the Air Force. They are beautiful people and shouldn’t be going through this. Nobody should.

This holiday weekend had tremendous love, too. Everyone was home to celebrate the wedding of a favorite niece and cousin. I spent Turkeygiving with a full tummy and fuller heart. On Saturday, my cousin’s family was gracious and loving, letting my daughter and her husband slide into the wedding festivities for a moment before returning back to the hospital.

It was that type of weekend, people looking out for each other, tremendous yins — terrible yangs, dualities, dichotomies, ups and downs, popping kernels.

I do the little things, the behind-the-scenes stuff to smooth out edged emotions. I’m good at that; food, cleaning, hugging, listening. I’m also good at making popcorn. It’s the one thing my son-in-law requested over and over again between trips to the hospital and frantic runs to take care of family business. If making popcorn makes life easier for him, I’ll gladly add some oil & kernels to the vat and spin up a bit of salty solace.

We used to sing a silly ditty in our little family, “It’s the four of us to-ge-ther.” Now we get to replace four with six. We could field a full volleyball team if the need ever arose. Basketball? We’d have enough to go around and a bench player ready to sub in. When someone on the team is hurting, we all hurt for them too. As cancer rips through his father’s body, tears flow from ours.

And now, a few days later, we receive word that they’re driving back cross-country, taking the reverse trail my daughter and I took in May. He’s slipping away; they want to be here for his final hours.

I’m preparing the house again, readying to help out wherever I can be useful. I’ll start by popping up the yin and yang symbol I made up above. I’ll have it waiting for him.

It’s the least a father can do.