Even the smallest pause between moments can serve as a way to cement an event in your mind, save it for future processing, and help transition yourself to the next.
I’m sorry to leave the world of books in my posts this week, but I’m not reading nearly as much as I usually do. The world has come into my home, and in a very nice way. Isn’t that why we read, study, and practice? To use the skills we learn in the physical world?
But I do still have thoughts I want to share, so here I am. Continuing from where I was yesterday in At A Loss for Words…
A few days ago, I wrote something interesting (to me) in my journal.
“What are you afraid of? What keeps you on your toes, alert, and grasping?”
“I’m afraid that if I let go of anything, I’ll lose it.”
I was referring to the ever-constant vigil I hold over my phone and …sadly still… social media, not to mention all the projects I want to get done. If I “stop to smell the roses,” that means slow down, and slow down means I’m not being as productive as I could be.
If I don’t answer that person that texted me, will they be there later? What if they forget about me?
And then there is the world news that keeps filtering into my world. When I say to friends and family, “That’s sad, tragic, etc., but there’s nothing I can do?” I feel like a bad person, but I don’t see what I can do other than be upset about it and being upset doesn’t help anyone.
I’m struggling this week, with words, with emotions, with the world outside my home. Can you tell? Like I said, it’s happened before but this time something has changed. I don’t feel so overwhelmed. I mean, I do, but I notice it and take steps to recenter. I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I’m experiencing, reflecting, and taking notes for a time in the future I can process it all.
Earlier this week, my mom and I took some of my sons’ things down to their new apartment together. As we got in the truck to head home, I stopped to take a breath.
We’re always rushing from one thing to the next, always getting on the freeway, packing up, answering a message, calling a friend, getting lunch…on and on and on. I wanted to sit and take the moment in, but I wish I had taken a bit longer.
Maybe that’s why I’m writing it here. To move my mind back to that quiet moment and take it all in again.
That moment yesterday? I can’t get it back. Those circumstances will never occur again. My mom and I had a great conversation on the way there. Seeing my sons so excited, moving into their new place, settled for a year, so close to home this time, made my heart happy. We walked around the corner to a café and had an amazing lunch together, laughing and telling jokes, sharing stories.
It just felt so good.
I needed that moment in the truck to soak it all in and remember it. I sat there, ready to make the three-hour drive home (which turned into a four- and half-hour drive because I “made a wrong turn in Albuquerque”), wanting to make it last just a few minutes longer. I took a breath, looked around, saw the street, the buildings, the flowers and the sunlight. I remember the apartment, my older son’s extra hugs, my younger looks a little stressed, probably about school. The look on their faces when they realized they’d have time to go surfing after we left. My mom’s look of love for her grandkids. I wanted more time. I wanted to cry and scream like a kid leaving Disneyland…but I can’t. I’m a grownup.
The small pause I was able to take worked. Here I am, a few days later, going back to that moment and reliving it, relating it to what I’m reading, what I’ve learned, putting it all into context. That day is now saved to my hard drive and shared with you here.
I wrote 2-10-22 in my journal this morning and smiled. 210. My first car was a 1979 Datsun 210 much like the one pictured here. I loved that car.
When we were kids, probably 12 or 13 years old, my grandpa taught my brother and I how to drive. He drove a manual transmission 1979 Datsun 210. And one day he drove us out between the fields and stopped on the side of the road. Dairy cows watched us watch him get out and slip blocks he had made onto the pedals.
“What are you doing grandpa?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
Incredulous, as if we must be the dumbest kids he ever met.
“Did you build a machine to drive the car?” my brother asked.
I kept quiet.
Grandpa stood up and took a step back. Hands on his brown polyester slacked hips, balding head in shining in the sun, I saw his grin. I can still see it. He was usually pretty proud of his wild ideas.
“Hop in there and see if you reach the pedals.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, my younger brother jumped into the driver’s seat. This was a car, a machine. Grandpa MUST be talking to him. I hung back and watched, unsure of what the plan was. I never was one to go running toward anything I wasn’t completely sure of.
Grandpa moved the seat up as far as it would go and reached in to adjust the pedals.
“See if you can push the pedals all the way down.”
With effort he could.
“If he can reach, so can you.” He tossed the words back at me over his shoulder as if he could hear my mind wondering. A thrill rushed through me. I can’t say if it was excitement or fear.
My brother was beside himself with excitement. To us, back then, driving was the beginning of everything. It was a ticket to freedom and independence. Sure, we were still far too young to get a driver’s license in California. Years away, in fact. But we were trusted and getting to learn the ropes and that was one step closer.
“Now, listen close. Your right foot is for the gas and the brake. Your left foot is for the clutch. Got it?”
My brother gripping the steering wheel, pulling himself closer to the pedals, his eyes wandering all over the car in wonder. “Yeah.”
“You’re not paying attention. Look at me and listen.” My grandpa’s impatient voice, the one that warned you to shape up.
For a moment, my brother’s eyes were glued to grandpa’s face but as soon as he started to talk, they went back to the windshield and the panel. His hand moved to the stick shift. My grandpa’s hand moved quicker and cracked it away like a whip. Now he had my brother’s attention.
“If you can’t listen, you can’t drive. I mean it.”
All eyes are locked on grandpa now, mine included. He does not expect to repeat himself for those who were present when he said it the first time. When grandpa is talking, he is talking to the whole room.
The lesson moved on. My grandpa is in the passenger seat, my 12-year-old brother in the driver’s. I’m in the backseat watching carefully.
These lessons went on as you might expect with young kids first learning the finesse of a five-speed manual transmission, with lurches and stalls, curse words and gasps. Sure, this was California, but we lived in a mostly rural community back then surrounded by dairies, chicken farms, alfalfa, and corn fields. There was plenty of room on these roads for a couple of kids and their grandpa to learn to drive.
We had a blast every time we went out. And the blocks with bungie cords stapled to one end stayed in the back seat just in case we needed to take the wheel, at least that’s what we thought.
We took turns driving around the fields for several weekends in a row. Once we had the hang of driving on flat roads, coming to a stop, turning around, and parking, my grandpa graduated us to starting while the car was pointed uphill. In a manual transmission, this is the trickiest lesson other than parallel parking (which I have never mastered).
There was no warning that I remember. There I was, driving along the empty road as it started to incline, when my grandpa told me to stop the car. I did and then looked at him, one foot on the clutch the other on the brake.
“Why are we stopped?”
“What if the light turns red on a hill, you stop, and there are cars behind you? Can you get going again without rolling backwards?”
“Of course!” I take my foot off the brake and start for the gas, but the car rolls back. I slam my foot back on the brake and look at him wide eyed.
I can still see his sideways grin as he chuckles, “Yeah. You didn’t think of that, did you, smartass?”
My eyes narrow at him, and I grin in determination. My grandpa and I are peas in a pod, both stubborn, both inclined to be a bit explosive, both tend to be egged on by a challenge. I grip the steering wheel and pull myself upright to think.
Over and over again, I start to roll back and then stop, until I get the idea to sneak my heel over to the gas before letting my toes off the brake. Seemingly all at once, I let of the brake, give it gas, let out the clutch and away we go.
I stop. “What? Why?”
“Do it again.”
By the time we were done, my brother and I could hold the car at stop going uphill, the clutch and gas balanced for a moment before speeding off. We were both well-versed in driving years before we were allowed to take Driver’s Education in high school and then get our licenses.
I don’t know why it was so important to him that we learn to drive so early. I guess it didn’t seem early to him. Looking back, it’s still a wonderful memory, one of the proud ones I used to tell my kids when they were learning to drive our Baja Bug with their dad in the desert. They also were well-versed by the time they were old enough for a license.
My grandpa gave me that 1979 Datsun 210 when I turned 16 in 1988. I drove it nearly six months before I rear-ended someone getting off the freeway, a probably expected. The only one with a driver’s license at the time, several friends and I piled into my little car to take ourselves to Knott’s Scary Farm for Halloween.
It wasn’t too bad of an accident, no physical injuries. Only my precious car didn’t make it, and my pride was badly bruised. My mom came to the rescue and had the car towed home. She dropped us off at Knott’s to enjoy the night despite the trouble getting there.
Funny, I’m thinking… How did I call her? There were no cell phones. I was on the freeway. The police were there. Maybe they called my mom? I can’t remember. It reminds me how awesome cell phones are though. My sons have been all over the world and I can always at least get a text message almost immediately.
Stopping in the drop off area in front of Knott’s Scary Farm, I lean over to my mom. “I’m sorry, mom.” I was pretty shaken up, not knowing what was going to happen next.
“Go play with your friends, baby. Don’t worry. We’ll figure out what to do tomorrow.” She kissed my head, and we ran off into the Halloween fog and screams.
Within a few days my grandpa found another 1979 Datsun 210 at the junk yard for $200. Over the next few weeks, I watched him and my brother switch the old engine into the new body in our driveway. I cleaned up the inside of the old car, vacuuming out the seats and floor, wiping down the dashboard and dials. My brother came running in to show me the dead mouse he found in an air-conditioning duct. It was a family project.
And I loved the new 1979 Datsun 210 more than old one because it was orange and a coupe instead of a hatchback, way cooler. I drove it until my brother turned sixteen, then passed it on to him when I bought an ’86 Ford Ranger, but that’s another story.
“East of the Mountains” by David Guterson is my neglected book. This poor book didn’t get a “first impressions” post, I didn’t even take a picture of it. I thought I did, but nope. I started reading it on August 17 and my first notes were, “I’m not liking this. Too sad and lonely.” And then, “Pages of memories, just nostalgia.” By page 108 I had almost had it, “Romantic and sentimental. Barf.”
Why am I so averse to sappy memories and sob stories? I get it! You’re dying. You’re old and have a lifetime of memories! Blah!
Other people’s sadness, pain, “What’s the point of all this?!” feeling, is something I steer clear of. I don’t deal with my own very well and I guess I just don’t know what to do with theirs. I’m not one to break down and tell my story through anguished tears. I hate sympathy. When I do, because I just can’t carry it anymore, I feel like an ass. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Reading stories like this…ugg…
So why did I finish it? I don’t know. I had to know how it ended, I guess. Where was he going with all this? I’m still not sure.
The story-telling devices he used were interesting. I don’t want to give it away too much, but he makes a plan to kill himself instead of suffering through his last months of cancer. In the process, he has some “adventures” that give him a chance to look back on his life and make some discoveries. I liked how that was done. I got to know him, but I still never really liked him.
“East of the Mountains,” reminded me of something that has come up over the years, especially recently. We have a very strange relationship with death. We live as if it isn’t coming, as if, somehow, we can avoid it. It’s a tragedy when it comes along, a complete surprise. We have no rituals, no philosophy that helps lead us to our end and deal with it gracefully, not for our own end or the end of those we love around us.
But the truth is, we will all die. No one gets out. Some of us leave this world sooner than others. And not one of us knows what will happen when we close our eyes forever.
We do know what happens to us when someone we love dies before us though, and I think that bothers me more. When I worry about my own death, I’m more concerned with how my family will go on without me, not that they won’t be able to take care of themselves. I know they can and will. I’m more worried about them being sad and not being able to cope with it. We’ve even talked about it several times.
Do you talk about death? Do you make plans about what you’ll do when your end comes? This seems to be the best way to deal with it. We drag that monster out from the darkness and lay it out before us. Suddenly, it’s not as scary as it was. Sure, we still can’t know what happens after we die, but we can deal with the reality of what will happen right here with the ones left behind.
The main character in this book was concerned that he would be a burden to his children as he died, and that triggered some memories of conversations I have had with my grandpa and my mom. I don’t understand that thinking. I look at it this way. When I was born, I was a burden, a big one. We all are. It took nearly twenty years for me to become less of a burden and take care of myself. Through all of that, my parents were there. What kind of an ass would I be not to return that care at the end of their lives?
This is where I start to look at our culture and wonder what happened. Where are the things that bring us together in a family? Where are the traditions that help us move through the stages of our lives and those of others? I used to be one that poo-poo’d traditions and rituals. Who needs a graduation, a wedding, a baby shower, a funeral, etc.? They had become only reasons to spend massive amounts of money on stuff we don’t need. But now I wonder. What if they didn’t used to be? What if that’s what we’ve reduced them to?
People complain about the lack of participation in national affairs and community, but I believe that it started with a lack of participation in family affairs. I’m guilty of it myself, but I believe our culture has evolved into this and created these circumstances. We don’t get married and have children, take care of those children, with the help of our extended family, help our grandparents as they get old and be there when they die. Our children live and grow up in institutions with other children. The adults live in the working world with other adults. The old live in retirement homes with other old people, to live out the rest of their lives and most likely die alone. We’ve separated ourselves into sections that no one moves between, and I think we’re starting to feel the effects of that.
A lack of empathy and understanding that started in our homes is now moving into the community and the nation. The lack of family bonds has evolved into a lack of community involvement. We don’t have time to know our children, to take care of our parents, let alone even know our neighbors. Besides, we have social media to keep up with what they are doing, why do I need to spend time with them in person?
In “East of the Mountains,” Ben, the main character in this story, is attempting to go off and die on his own so that his family doesn’t have to carry the burden of caring for him as he dies. On the way, he begins to see (I hope) why that is so wrong. My thoughts on reading this swirl around memories of my grandma’s Sylvia’s death, my grandpa Ray’s decline into dementia, and the trauma in our family resulting in differing opinions about how to deal with it.
Maybe it’s just me getting old, but I’m starting to think that maybe family is far more important than our culture leads us to believe. In the end, and at the beginning, it’s all we have to hold on to. If we can’t, we’re lost.
Story telling isn’t just for entertainment and gaining attention. And it comes in so many forms. What medium do you use to tell your story?
“Stories are a way to preserve one’s self. To be remembered. And to forget. Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books. Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives – to find strength in a very long one.”
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
What drew me to this book in the first place was the reference to stories and a bookstore, so it makes sense that the first quote I share from it would be this. There’s a lot here, though, so I’m going to try to pull it apart a little.
“Stories are way to preserve one’s self.”
I’ve always been chided and teased for story telling in every conversation and not just because I’m getting old(er). Even when I was in my early 20’s, I’d be at work telling someone the story about the time I went water skiing and got so sunburned or the time my brother jumped off the roof. As I got older, married, had kids, etc., the stories just kept coming.
I take pride in knowing that I will be that old lady in the corner of the livingroom spinning my yarns, “I remember the time…” and all my great-grandkids will want to listen but everyone else will roll their eyes. “We’ve heard this one!”
Why do we tell stories about our past?
“To be remembered. And to forget”
I want my friends and family to remember the things that have happened to me and the things we experienced together. I can write them down for posterity, and I frequently do, but telling them is my favorite. Something about sitting and remembering together is so comforting. It’s like reaching out to touch your partner in the night, a reminder that we are all still here.
When we’re together telling stories, some of us add details or their own perspective, things each of us might have missed. We solidify the story each time we tell it, a verbal family history. It’s the ultimate “family bonding” time.
We also tell stories “to forget.”
In that moment, when we are together with friends and family, swapping stories about our past, sharing tales of our childhood, embarrassing our teenagers with their cute baby stories, we put the current time with all its stress way into the background. For those moments, we don’t worry about bills that need to be paid or that meeting we need to attend at work.
Hearing each other’s stories like this also puts today into perspective. We may be currently stressing over work, home, business, and the state of union, but when we hear all our stories, we can see that nothing has changed that much. Our parents and grandparents worried about the same things. Life just keeps on going, kids do crazy things, adventures are had, no matter what is happening in the world.
What form can stories take? Like she said, “in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books.” Most of our stories come in the form of words told over the dinner table or sitting around the livingroom, but some come in the form of a quilt my aunt made, a ceramic figure my grandmother crafted, or painting by my mother and her friends. It can also be the song my sons play, the robot they tried to make with their dad, and the video my stepdaughter made and posted on youtube. They are all connected to memories, things that help each of us be remembered and live longer in other people’s memories.
And this, “Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives…”
That’s why I read, but it’s also why I tell my stories. I am not just my life. I’m all the lives that came before me, all the lives and portions of lives that I’ve lived and heard of. My children and my grandchildren will have my life a part of theirs. Hopefully, my great-grandchildren will live a part of my life as well, even if they never meet me.
The quilt I made, the blog post I write, the pine tree I tended and got to grow tall, as well as the stories I told while we walked in the desert, are all part of the story that pass into the future.
Addie’s curse didn’t allow her to do that. She could live forever, be a part of the world forever, but no one will remember her. Her curse allowed me to see the beauty of what I have. And that’s why I love reading books.
I blogged about “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” when I started reading it back in January. It certainly didn’t take me long to read it all. I couldn’t put it down! Have you read it? You can find it on Thriftbooks.com if you don’t have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments when you read it!
There are days when I wish I had more friends to invite to a party. Wouldn’t it be nice, I think to myself as I sip a glass of whiskey, if this porch and house were filled with people? Maybe.
Then I look around me. There aren’t many of us here every week, but the feelings fill the room. A couple of us are here every weekend, some come occasionally, some stay for an hour, and some stay well into the night.
We are fortunate to live in a place where an “outdoor livingroom” can be a thing, and we’ve used it to our advantage. Just about every week we cook, we drink, laugh, and talk out there. We share stories, listen to music, shoot pool and keep a tally of winners and losers. “You marked that one down, right?!” is often heard yelled across the patio as the winner goes to pull another home brew from the keg and the loser reaches for the rack to set up the next game.
There is only one rule on Friday nights, “No bullshit.” This is the place we leave the outside world’s shit behind. We may talk politics, but we do not fight about it. You may bring your kids, but we don’t share opinions about parenting choices…unless we are asked for them. Fighting with your spouse or girlfriend? Leave it outside. There have been a few flare-ups. Even good friends disagree, but it passes quickly because we are all the type that forgive and forget offenses.
This is the time and place to celebrate simply being alive. Come if you want, or don’t. Bring a friend, or not. Bring food, or not. We’re all here to relax and enjoy each other’s company for a few hours.
The night starts with food, proceeds through games and beer, and then people start trickling out the door. It usually ends with the last of us laying on the couch snoring. It’s a wild bunch.
Would it be more fun to have a larger group of people? Possibly, for a time. But this small group of neighbors is irreplaceable. I can’t imagine the week without them.
I didn’t write anything last week. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything to get up in the morning for, I just didn’t make time to sit and think about it.
I usually spend an hour each Sunday mapping out the coming week, not that I have so much to do that I need to plan. I draw up the weeks calendar in my journal and work out what things I want to get done and when. It’s fun for me and reminds me that I do accomplish things throughout the week, even if I rarely leave the house these days. Last Sunday, I did not make that plan and it showed.
I’ve been a housewife and Mom for 20 years. ALL my “work” is self-imposed. No one has asked me to do it. No one is watching to be sure I did. If I don’t do it…the only person that knows is me. When the kids were little, there was lots that HAD to do to keep up. Kids need clean clothes, food…attention! Those days have been over for awhile now. My sons are grown and, for reasons you all are probably struggling with as well, live here more like roommates right now, so my responsibilities have shrunk considerably but I still have things I want to get done.
I used to think that if I didn’t have to go to work all these hours, I’d have so much energy to do the projects I want to do. If I didn’t have kids to care for, I’d write a book, paint the house, or make a quilt. It turns out that even if you have all the time in the world, something gets in the way. My attitude and laziness is my nemesis. I’m like an eight-year-old child. “I’m bored and my friends can’t play!”
So last week, I dropped everything and chilled…or at least tried to…stupid summer. I watched tv shows, read, laid still on the floor with the dog, made cookies, and harassed my sons while they tried to play video games. It was a good week, but I got very little done. Productivity was out the window. That’s my story for not making time for this little exercise in gratitude and I’m sticking to it.
But you know what? I’m grateful that I can take the week off from most of my responsibilities when I want to. Why do I get up in the morning? Because I’m damn lucky to have nothing serious to worry about and that I can pretty much spend my days the way I want to. Because I have a husband that works hard at a job that he’s not always happy with so that I can. Because my kids are grown and self-sufficient and I’m not needed as much anymore. Because I’m retired!
Just as a side note, I came on here planning on telling you that I get up in the morning because tacos exist. They are wonderful and any day that I get my butt out of bed could be a perfect day for tacos, but my thoughts went in a different direction as I typed. Probably because I had plenty of tacos yesterday.
Most days, when my husband finishes work, we go for a walk. Sometimes it’s just down to the mailbox and back, a little more than a mile. Other days we feel like we should go farther and make the long loop around our block, about almost three miles. It’s good exercise for us, physically and mentally. Mentally is what I want to emphasize here. There’s nothing else to do but keep walking. We can’t read, check social media, do the dishes, or go out to the yard. We just walk and think which leads to talking.
The longer our walks, the deeper our conversations go, and sometimes there are long stretches of silence as we go along. After a longer bit of silence, my husband will say something like, “I’m thinking about water quality and beer flavor.” I laugh because he knows the quieter it gets, the more I wonder what’s up, and he always tries to make my life easier no matter what we are doing.
Our long walks give us time to think and to explore ideas, talk about the kids, what we’re reading, things that have happened during the day. We always feel closer when we walk often.
It’s just the two of us walking now, but we’ve been walking since the kids were little. When we were home, we’d walk to the park or down the street to Disneyland. We’d walk on our vacations and camping trips, covering miles of trails and RV park roads. When we lived in the city, we’d take our tent trailer out to the desert and camp in the wilderness. We’d take long walks away from camp, as far as little legs would go, take a break and then circle back. The kids always led the way out, BB guns and canteens strapped to their backs, and then dragged behind us on the way back.
Discussions abounded on those walkabouts, even when they were little. We’d talk about what we saw on the trail, what we had to eat, and where we were going next. Sometimes big questions would come up. And we’d have lots of time to think and answer, think again, and ask more questions. There’s just something special about walking together that lends itself to serious connection with your fellow walkers. No matter how mundane the location, you’re on an adventure, a quest. And the time together is never wasted.
I specifically remember one walk when it was just my sons and me out in the desert. We decided to stay an extra couple of days instead of coming home in traffic on Sunday afternoon. My husband worked from home and we had a decent internet connection at camp, so he worked from the trailer while the boys and I played. Early in the morning, he had driven us far back into the hills where the old mines were and left us to spend the day walking back so he could work in peace. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and emergency supplies, and the boys were thrilled to try leading me back to camp.
As we walked, we pointed things out, investigated interesting rock formations, and took pictures of critters we found. They climbed a hill together and planted a “flag” at the top, an old bandana they had in the backpack. We took breaks, sitting in sandy washes in the shade of a large creosote or rock face. And we talked. This one was very special though. This time my eight-year-old son asked me questions about God and we spent most of the walk exchanging ideas. It was incredible.
I’ll never forget it. We caught site of camp when we came to the crest of the hill, four hours of walking and exploring coming to a close, when my son stops and looks at me, “You know mom, you should be a pastor or something. When you talk about God, I feel it. It makes me want to know more.” My heart just about exploded. Unsolicited praise from your children is like nothing else in this world.
Long drives have always had a similar effect on us as long walks, a chance to be quiet and think and to talk in ways we never seem to have when we’re at home. We don’t listen to the radio, but we do listen to music. There are several whole albums we have to hear on every trip over an hour-long, because that’s how you’re supposed to hear them, not in pieces on the radio, so they insist. We hold our thoughts until a break between songs and are sure to hit pause when we have to bring up a subject for general discussion. Drives to amusement parks, homeschool events, and family parties, road trips, and shopping excursions were filled with deep philosophical conversations. Ok, not really! Sometimes they got deep, many times, but usually, it was about something funny they’d seen or what they wanted to do tomorrow. But the more we drove, the deeper the conversations got.
I find myself driving alone more often now and I listen to podcasts instead of albums. I frequently find myself wanting to pause and discuss what I just heard with my family, but they aren’t there. I keep a notebook in the car now so I can write down my ideas for later because I swear I’m forgetting things more now that I have to hold on to an idea longer instead of blurting it out for immediate discussion. I learn and digest information best when I can talk about it out loud with others. Maybe it’s good exercise for me to hold on to it, let it ruminate and then discuss it later. It’s something I do have to work on these days.
Yesterday, my grown son wanted me to go with him to the city to go shopping. He could have gone without me. I had lots of other things to do besides sit in the car for two hours. We had a date though, and I felt like he really needed me to go, to show him I was still here when he needed me. I’m glad I did. My youngest isn’t much of a sharer of feelings and ideas. He’s a private man and keeps his thoughts close. But on this drive, he opened up and I listened. He talked about his first love and breakup, career plans, his college classes, life goals, and religion. I gave my two cents like I did when he was younger, but mostly I listened to my now-grown son show me exactly how smart and mature he has grown to be. I was in awe and I’m proud to have been invited in.
Why am I going on about this? Because conversation is important and to have a good conversation, we need to make space for it in our lives. We didn’t plan on taking long walks and drives with our kids so that they would have the time and space to talk, it just happened. I slowly became aware of what was happening as the kids grew and realized only recently, now that they are grown and moving out into their own lives, how special that time was and still is.
It seems like going for a walk with a friend might be an extravagance. There’s so much housework to do. It may seem like walking around the neighborhood with our loved ones is silly. Driving to a special store or small museum in the next town might feel like a waste of gas. We’ve been there, done that, and we see those people all the time. It’s not about the walk, the place, or the coffee, though. It’s about making a space for conversation to happen. It’s about connecting with people.
We’re all busy. The house is full of distractions. There’s so much at work to do. When we die, or when our loved ones go before us, will be satisfied that the laundry was done or that project was completed? Or will be happy that we got to really know our parents, our children, and our spouses. Will we sigh and say as we die, “Well, at least the kitchen cabinets are clean!” or will be gratified to know that our closest friends really know how we feel?
We can’t force the connection. We can’t tell everyone, “Today we will all talk to each other.” Or simply make a rule, “There are no smartphones or tablets allowed on this drive!” But we can make consistent safe space for our friends and family to reach out and talk. We can plan walks at the park. We can ask if they’d like to go with you. We can make lunch and coffee dates and keep them. And we can spend that time listening, asking questions, telling our stories, and allowing for the connection to happen or not.
It’s up to you. No one gets out of here alive and our time is limited. Spend it wisely.
We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.
The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.
We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.
This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.
Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.
We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.
We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.
At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.
We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.
A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.
When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.
I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.
“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.
Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.
“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.
He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.
“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.
“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”
Without looking away, “The black people.”
I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”
“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.
“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.
“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”
A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”
He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.
As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.
“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.
“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.
Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.
Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.
Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.
“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.
The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.
“Of course, they aren’t!” I can just hear people scoff when I post that statement. But then I hear the way they talk about the people in their lives and wonder…do they know what that really means?
We treat people as possessions when we get angry that a child is not “living up to his potential” and doing something other than what we had planned for them. We treat people as possessions when we insist that our romantic partners spend all their free time with us and never even look in the direction of another. We treat people as possessions when we get angry that our parents move to another state away from our young family.
Each of us has a life to live independent from the others around us. There are times in our life when we come together and work toward a common goal, a family, a job, a project, but ultimately, we are responsible for our own lives, for achieving our own goals, making ourselves happy.
When we choose to work in relationship with others for a short or long term, both sides of the relationship are voluntary. The relationship lasts as long as everyone in it wants to be in it. And when one person in the relationship no longer wants to be there, they are not monsters, they are not mean, they are not evil. They are acting in their own best interest and they should be encouraged to do so, even if that means we must be sad or hurt a bit while we adjust.
These things seem to be so glaringly obvious to me lately, but still I see the way people treat the ones they love and wonder what it would be like if we all respected each other more.
The possessiveness I see reminds me of a small child.
They gather all their precious toys around them, clutching in desperation to keep their possessions from being stolen away by others. When someone makes a move to see what it is that they are holding so dear, they snatch it close and holler, “Mine!”
Children haven’t learned to share yet and to learn to share, they must at first feel secure that things won’t be taken away by force. We allow them to horde their things and build up the strength to share with the presence of abundance.
Do we not think this will work with relationships as well? When I have filled up my bucket of love so to speak, I learn to share that love with others. When I spend time and energy in any relationship, I know when that person spends time away from me, they will return. I am sharing my precious with others, not giving it away.
My children will grow into independent and fully functional adults, that go into the world without me and bring back to me the new relationships they have built with others to share with me.
My husband spends some of his after-work time meeting new people, following new activities, without my presence. And when he returns, he is happier and brings new feelings and energy, new people, and new activities to our relationship.
My parents, while not right down the street while I raise my own children, have moved to another state and now I can bring my family on vacation there and enjoy their company on completely different terms than the way I grew up.
Possessiveness is only jealousy in disguise. There is no faster destroyer of love than feeling as if one is a possession of another. “If you love something, set it free…”
“No meat? No meat at all?!” I heard my Grandmother exclaim when I told her I was bringing my new girlfriend to Sunday dinner. Cary told me not to bother explaining to my Grandma, that she’d just take what she could.
“Don’t tell her, she’ll only make herself crazy trying to make something I can eat. And then what if I don’t like it? Then I’ll feel terrible that she went to all the trouble for me. She’ll hate me.”
I pulled her into my arms and kissed her cheek, “No one could possibly hate you. You’re too sweet.” I kissed her neck and nibbled her ear. “Mmm…definitely sweet.”
“Stop. I’ve got work to do. Call her and tell her we’re both coming on Sunday, but don’t tell her I’m vegetarian. I’ll just make do around the meat.”
But I had to tell her. My Grandma does not take “no thank you” for an answer. She’d be offended if someone at her table didn’t eat something and then if we explain during dinner why Cary is saying no, she’ll be angry that we didn’t tell her earlier so she could make something special for my “new little friend.”
Man I hate it when she says that. I’m 27 years old. Cary isn’t my new little friend, she’s a woman, with a career and her own apartment. We’ve grown really close over the past few months since we met, maybe a little too close. I’m actually thinking about proposing for crying out loud. She’s my girlfriend!
“Grandma, it’s really no big deal. She isn’t a picky eater, but she doesn’t eat meat, any meat. She’s vegetarian. She said she’s happy to eat any beans, bread, or vegetables you make. Don’t go crazy trying to make something special. Please. I just wanted you to know before we got there.”
“Of course, honey. You worry too much. Hmm…maybe I can make a vegetarian lasagna. Carol brought a vegetarian lasagna to the potluck last week and it was wonderful, but your Grandpa hated it. He told her too, right to her face. He said it wasn’t lasagna at all, just vegetables with sauce. He’s always been such a crab to her. It’s like he just loves to upset her.”
“Or maybe I could make a tofu turkey! I saw that on a tv show. It was so funny! It didn’t look anything like a turkey and no one would eat it.”
“What about pizza? Does she like pizza? We could make a bunch of pizzas and everyone could put what they want on them. I love making pizza. It reminds me of my Grandma. She always let us have a ball of dough of our own and my brother would eat it raw.”
“You’re going to make a big deal out of this aren’t you?”
“How could I not? Especially when you’re bringing your new little friend to meet us for the first time. It must be serious!”
“I love you. Do you know that?”
“Yes, I do. I love you too. My very favorite grandchild.”
“Grandma, I’m your only grandchild.”
“Still counts! I’m going to make those little won-tons you like so much for an appetizer. Be here by one or your uncle will eat them all himself.”