I had breakfast with my old friend Jim this morning. He’s a great friend and actually my spiritual mentor, but, darn him, moved away from the Vermont climate several years ago. I now see him only a few times a year, and we always spend several hours over eggs or sandwiches at The Wayside or other local restaurant when he comes north for a visit. (The servers must hate us.)
This visit, we both noticed, it seemed that we have changed a bit; we both have mellowed over the years and, somehow, things that once seemed important to us have lost their edge. We agreed that older people view the world differently than do the young. Some things that once mattered, just don’t anymore.
To change the subject, but not a lot, Lorna and I regularly take care of our young granddaughter, Nahla. She’s an incredibly special little girl, and, as with all young children, is overflowing with laughter, love, and especially, energy. It’s difficult to hold that child down, and when she leaves our home we are often tired, but it is a particularly good tired. Nahla has a reputation for being headstrong, but there is one way that it’s easy to get Nahla to do a few things you want her to do. That way is to somehow make doing the thing into a race. If it’s time for bed it often works to see if she can beat Grammy up the stairs. Nahla always wins, (I wonder why) but in the end, she is upstairs at bedtime. Also, any opportunity to ‘beat the clock’ is helpful. If you want Nahla to go upstairs to get her socks before school, or to put some toy away in her room, challenging her to do it and then get back downstairs before you count to ten (slowly) is a great way to get it done. (In this race, too, she always wins. Wink.) Young people love to be the winners, to succeed, to be FIRST. If you’re a young parent or an old grandparent like me, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
My point here is to say that as we get older, that drive to be first may fade. In fact, I have begun thinking about the possible benefits of not winning every race, of not being the first over the finish line, or to make the best time. If you see an older person who just doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, it could be that they can’t hurry anymore, but could also be that they don’t want to hurry anymore. You could ask my mom about that one. At nearly 99 years of age, and still living on her own, Mom is in no hurry, and that is often as much by choice as ability.
At times there are good reasons to want to be first, to be fast. Several days ago, Nahla and I were out on the front porch, she, running back and forth, anxiously grabbing flying dry leaves out of thin air like they were hundred-dollar bills, while I rocked back and forth on the glider. (I don’t care as much as I used to about hundred-dollar bills.)
As I sat on the glider, watching Nahla, and listening to her stomping footsteps on the porch floor, I happened to notice this one leaf still clinging to the bare branches of one of our front lawn maples. It seemed to me that this small leaf, once among the thousands like it crowding the branches, was now the very last one. I had to wonder if that leaf ever ‘wondered’ about not being first, but about the chance that it might be last. I then realized that my dear mom has outlasted all her siblings, and, very sadly, a few younger people in our family, too. The leaf, as well, outlasted all the rest, which, I thought, might in some way be more important than being first.
There is merit to winning a race, to being first, but also in being the last leaf to leave. I think my mom would agree with that.