‘For Paul, a new friend and courageous heart. Love Dan.’
That is what author Dan Millman wrote on the inside cover of my father’s copy of Way of the Peaceful Warrior when he met him on a cruise ship sailing around Alaska in 2008. It is now my copy of the book, one of the many possessions my father left behind when he became a Warrior himself and left this world to embark on a new beginning elsewhere. He loved this book. He read it countless times, along with all its sequels; he had the movie and its soundtrack on his phone.
I remember once telling him I was too busy to read the book, or saying that I was not interested in ‘life coaching’. I remember only reluctantly agreeing to watch the film with him, and ignoring half of it when we did. I guess I did not understand before the significance of Dan Millman’s story, or how important it was to my dad; I knew it was about meditation and being spiritual and fighting against life’s barriers, but I never chose to look deeper at what the Warrior Life truly meant. I was not really that interested.
Of course, I am now. I read the book not long ago, in some desperate attempt to be closer to my dad, to learn more about him, to feel like he was somehow still with me. And although the book is rather short, and Millman’s writing is clear and smooth and easy for anyone to understand, reading this book was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The number of times I wanted to put it down, after reading a line that brought to my mind the dark, tear-filled eyes of my dying father, or stumbling across a character that told the same jokes he used to. But the hardest part about reading it was that I loved it. It was so special and inspiring and wondrously touching. It taught me things that I will remember for the rest of my life, and stirred up questions that I was desperate to ask my dad, to talk to him about, but it was too late. I never wanted to read it when he was here, even though all he wanted was to talk about it with me. This thin, paperback book that kept him so strong for all those years, I had not given a second glance when I should of.
But I suppose it is never too late, right? And if Way of the Peaceful Warrior has taught me anything, it is two things. Life is going to happen. We have to accept it, and just be happy with where we are now. The past is the past and the future is the future. Our mind traps us in either of these, but never the present, which is the only tense that matters. I was too busy saying I would read the book in the future, that I never truly paid attention to the present, to the days when my dad was there, alive, sitting right next to me with a real voice and real hand to hold. He was sick for so long, I knew not to take my time with him for granted. But I did. I thought he would be here forever, that I would have all the time in the world to say things I was too scared to say, to hold him for a few more seconds, to just have him there with me. And now that he is gone, all I can do is look behind me, at the past, where he and my family were complete and happy and blissfully ignorant of the future. My memories are in the past, and I am terrified because with each passing day they grow dimmer. But the present is where I need to be. If I leave the present, I will miss it, and all too soon it will turn into the past.
The second lesson Way of the Peaceful Warrior taught me is that he is not really gone; he is still here, just not in human form. Like Dan says at the end of the book, ‘he had never left. He was only changed. He was the elm above my head; he was the clouds and the bird and the wind. They would always be my teachers, my friends.’ Dan thought he had lost his Peaceful Warrior, his Socrates. But he did not. And my father is my Socrates, and I have also not lost him.
‘I surveyed the world around me. Socrates was here. He was everywhere.’
Thank you Dan Millman, for creating something so special and beautiful that it brought me closer to my dad, at a time when I thought we would be forever apart. Thank you, Dad, my own Peaceful Warrior, my Socrates, for teaching me so much and leaving me this book that has helped me make my own courageous heart strong once more. And wherever you are, I hope you are unreasonably happy and at peace.