The well that cannot go dry

In the summer of 1997, we lived in the Front Range of the Rockies, a place of high altitude and high sun and red dust and blistering heat and cactus and the occasional rattlesnake. At the end of each burning day, I would shuffle down our sidewalk through the swelter, aiming for our front door and behind it the big stuffed chair and the glass of iced tea and a chance to shut my eyes against the flaming glare.

And each day, my tiny daughter Mandy would hear the creak of the screen door and come careening around the corner — all arms and legs and pigtails and giggles and smiles — to wrap herself around my weary knees, look up, and say, “Oh, Papa, I love you into pieces.”

At five years old, she didn’t have her idioms squared away, but her meaning was clear: at that moment, gazing into her father’s eyes, she poured out every bit of love she had, held nothing back, squeezed her little heart dry. And no matter how long my day or how tired my mind and body, I always looked forward to those regenerating little knee-hugs.

My children taught me how to love by just doing it. They harbored nothing, kept no balance sheets, expected little in return, tied no strings. They showed me that love is a gift from God, miracle stuff — that it’s the only thing we have that we can give all of it away and still have all of it left. I see proof every day.

A silver pickup truck parks in front of my barn and the driver’s door opens and my son steps out and my heart just bursts open. That’s it, I think to myself, there isn’t a molecule of affection left, that’s all I got. Then the passenger door opens and my daughter-in-law climbs out and I’m flooded all over again. Or, the phone rings at work and I hear my wife’s voice, a voice that has caused my heart to skip a beat since 1979. Or, I get an e-mail from a precious someone who has moved far away who tells me they miss me. Or, I find an adorable little note from my favorite niece. Or, I open the mailbox to find a letter from my dad. Or, I drive into town on an errand and see a friend’s car in a parking lot. And my heart overflows, and that’s it, that’s all I’ve got — and all I’ve got is always enough because no matter how much pours out, the well just never runs dry. Love is miraculous.

Mandy is all grown up now and in college far away, and she has matured idiomatically. She’s increased her vocabulary, cleaned up her grammar, and speaks with an air of educated sophistication. She sent me an e-mail not long ago telling me that she was coming home for a surprise visit.

I responded instantly and breathlessly using CAPITAL letters and bold and italics and underlines and new-millennium abbreviations (e.g. CHW: Can Hardly Wait) and (excessive!!!) strings of exclamation points and the whole thing just dripped with gooey paternal sappiness.

Her reply was adorable, if terse, and it was clear by reading between the lines that my little girl still loved her papa into pieces. (Now, it helps with this part of the narrative if you imagine me as a wiggling puppy on the back of a couch looking out a window as a third-grader comes bounding down the steps of a school bus).

All Mandy’s text message said was, “Dude, don’t wet yourself.”

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