Last night, during dinner, I sat and watched the interplay between my parents and my niece Michelle. At an earlier time in my life, I’d have felt a stab of envy for the ease in which they banter back and forth. Now I’m supremely grateful and not a little in awe of their relationship.
As a kid, I wasn’t close to either of my folks. Dad was gruff, distant, involved with work, work and more work. He had no time for play. Days off were for doing things around the house. Evenings were for bowling and television. He had no interest in doing anything that involved a kid. Mom (burdened, no doubt, by a degree of guilt and obligation) did things with me, but I can’t say that I ever got the impression she actually enjoyed them.
I’m not ragging on my folks, merely reporting as it was at that time in my life. They would have their own viewpoints, some of which might coincide with mine, others not.
Michelle, on the other hand, has always had what seems to be an effortless connection to her grandparents. That’s not to say they haven’t argued in the past — they have, and sometimes quite heatedly from Michelle’s point of view — but she is a master at letting the anger go, of not holding a grudge (at least with them), of forgiveness.
So I was sitting there, watching the three of them chat over dinner, the jokes, the mock threats. The love is so palpable, you swear you could reach out and pick it out of the air like a bunch of grapes. Michelle is poignantly aware of my parents’ decline and has cast herself as their primary caretaker (and kudos to her for that). She will be devastated when they’re gone, but she isn’t wasting precious time thinking about it right now. The grief will come later. For now, she is concentrating on what’s most important — the joy, on wringing each day dry of precious memories and tucking them away to savor at another time.
I’ve made her my role model. When the desire rises (as it does; as it will) to grow impatient, frustrated…I try to honor those feelings in my heart but, at the same time, understand what’s at stake. These are precious days and if we are smart, we will hoard them like gold.
With that in mind, this:
For years, my parents went to Maine every summer to visit Mom’s family. Time passed and my grandparents were gone. The visits became more sporadic and finally, when the twelve-hour drive got to be too much for them, stopped altogether. They haven’t been to Maine in almost twenty years and have lost touch with all but a few relatives.
Now, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, they’ve managed to reconnect, in a small way, with some of my cousins. They don’t hear from them often, but they enjoy each interaction. The pinnacle of that came this week when they received a card and letter from my cousin Becky. Almost before I got inside the house, my mother was asking if I wanted to see it. She and Dad talked about it all week how much they enjoyed it, what it meant to them. One little card. A few pages of handwritten “catch-up” after a long silence.
It doesn’t take much, people. Those who tell me they “don’t have time” to stay in touch in this age of instant communication have no idea how lazy they sound. Time? When it takes a few seconds to sign your name to a card, send a text, pick up the phone? Most on the receiving end aren’t looking for a long-term commitment — they just want to be noticed. And I don’t mean “only” old people. How many of us have neglected our friends in that way, letting them vanish from our lives unnoticed because we’re “too busy” doing…what? Texting? Playing video games? Watching a movie or youtube?
Becky understands, as too many of us don’t, that time is short. Soon, my parents will be gone and the chance to reach out and say hello will disappear forever. For her, that mattered. She didn’t want to lose this fleeing opportunity.
What about you? Who have you let slip by?