Well into my sixth decade, I have found it deceptively easy to let days slip by unremarked, to mistake similarity for sameness, to let time disappear not because it is moving faster, but because I am less attentive.
Oh, what did you do today? Went to work, spent hours looking at a computer screen, solved a couple of problems, sat through a couple of meetings.
What was your weekend like? Oh, the usual. Did some work around the house, went to church, had a lunch date with my wife. Just another weekend.
And on and on and another year, another birthday, another Christmas and where did they all go? The same as they did when I was five or twenty-five or forty-five. So, this week, I decided to pay attention, to look, to see, to be aware that each day, no matter how routine, is a unique experience.
I am at Barnes & Noble almost every weekend, doing my part to delay the death of the Last Great Bookseller. But this was Thursday. It was about 85 degrees outside that evening and nearly that warm inside our home. We were wilting. Aubrey, the girl who loves getting out the house no matter how much she has already been out and about on a given day, pleaded, “Please, can we pleeeeeeeeease go to Barnes and Noble?” It was miserable in the house relative to the comfort of the air conditioning at B&N and I had taken the next day off. So, what harm could there be in taking a couple of hours out of the evening in the familiar halls of the bookstore? So, with the appropriate feigned reluctance, I said, “Yes”.
Shortly after we arrived, the girls were in the kids section at the back of the store, absorbed. I decided to go to the front to check on a book I was interested in. In the background, B&N had music playing from a CD on sale in their music section, as they always do. Usually, it is just background noise. In this case, the tune was familiar and caught my ear. It was a vocal group singing, of all things, a hearty version of “Amazing Grace”. (I found out later that the album was The Very Best of Celtic Thunder, which also includes such spiritual tunes as “Seven Drunken Nights” and “Galway Girl”). Then, as I started to walk up the aisle towards the front, I heard someone singing along. That is, a real, live person in the store. Not loudly, but clear and noticeable. I smiled at the thought of someone enjoying the old tune enough to sing along in such a public place. Out of the next cross aisle, a young man appeared, probably in his late teens, at the most in his early twenties. He crossed a few feet in front of me. His hair-cut almost certainly identified him as a member of the Marine Corps. He walked with a bounce in his stride, still singing. Then, he caught my eye and saw my smile. He stopped singing just long enough to return my smile, tip his head in my direction, say “Sir,” and go right back to singing. I kept on smiling as I watched him go. Two total strangers in the local bookstore sharing a moment of appreciation for an old song sung in a fresh way.
A day later. The usual pattern for Friday evenings is that our eldest daughter, her husband, and their kids come over. Grandkids on Friday. Part of the routine. Easy to become commonplace. Hold me Grandpa. Look at this Grandpa. Push me on the swing, Grandpa. Earlier, I had spent most of my day ‘off’ in a lot of physical activity: cleaning the garage on the hottest day of the year. I was spent. So, when the grandkids arrived in the late afternoon, I was laying down trying to recharge. They started playing in back along with our girls. Their happy chatter drifting in our bedroom window roused me out of my lethargy, somewhat. Grandpa doesn’t always have the stamina he did when his own girls were small. I headed outside towards the play set and plopped into one of the swings, watching all the activity. Then, my eldest grandson came over.
“Can I swing?”
I thought at first he wanted me to push him and I started to get up. Slowly.
“Can I swing with you, Grandpa?”
Now that is a different proposition altogether. Not necessarily any easier for me, but not what he usually asks for. I sat back down and he climbed onto my lap.
“Hold on tight. I don’t want you to fall off.” Standard instructions for grandchildren. It is in the manual. Page 36.
And the instructions worked for a few swings as we gained altitude. Then, he decided holding on tight was not so important and not nearly as much fun.
Picture the upswing: laying back, arms straight, feet pointed towards the sky. If I let go, disaster. If he lets go, there is grandpa and centrifugal force keeping him safely in place. So, there we are, grandson relaxing with his arms by his sides on the grandpa recliner. Except we soon have a problem: we reach the apex and start the downswing, normally the signal to lean forward and kick your feet back. But, I can’t do that or Charlie ends up in the gravel and I live with years of guilt. So, I stayed mostly horizontal, my arms holding my weight and the additional weight of my grandson, kicking my feet just enough to keep our momentum from failing while not catching them on the ground. It didn’t take long for my arms to start protesting at this unnatural swinging technique. But I had to ignore my arms, because how often does a 4-year-old get to swing through the air, up-and-back, up-and-back, without holding on at all? The only thing keeping him in place is gravity and his trust that Grandpa would never let him fall down. And I wouldn’t.
While my arms ached, the blue sky and horizon of the fence and trees and the house next door moved up-and-down. I tried to imagine my 4-year-old self so long ago and what kind of magic it would have been to have a Big Person right there supporting me while I flew through the air holding nothing. Then, just soon enough, my grandson said to me, “Down. I want Down.”
“You’re all done swinging?” I tried not to sound too hopeful.
“Uh-huh. All done.”
So I let my feet drag in the gravel and we slowed to a stop and soon he was off to his next adventure, leaving me to wonder at the one he had just finished.
Two magic moments. I wonder what it will be today?