Rather than focusing on annual resolutions, I try to find a quiet time weekly to ponder on life’s “small wonders” as I take measure of the unrolling list of such things as I revisit and add to my “Happiness Calendar”.
This Christmas Shirley and I found ourselves getting to welcome two brand new great grandkids (No. 12 and No. 13) who had not been with us last year, and to share the story of how three others had gone to their personal savings and with some help from their parents used it to buy and distribute 60 warm blankets plus some cash to the homeless in their Colorado neighborhood to make this holiday one they will long remember. And their story joins my own lengthening list.
Several years ago I was invited to speak on patriotism to a small Utah community gathering. The whole town showed up together with their children. I was late getting away, but found a young girl patiently waiting by my parked vehicle. Taking my hand in both of hers, she looked up at me in the gathering dark and, with great feeling said: “I just wanted to tell you that you touched my heart tonight, and I will never forget the things you said”. I found she was 8 years old and in the third grade. She walked away to the only other vehicle still there, a mini-van filled with her large and patiently waiting family. I was stunned, can’t even remember my trip home and to this day can’t describe in mere words how she touched my heart.
Having grown up in a family of four brothers and a day-to-day brotherhood of tree-climbing, fast-ball hitting rough-and-ready guys with a capital “G”, I was rather clumsy as a kid in knowing how to relate to girls as “friends”. What saved me from allowing that disease to become fatal was a girl named Elizabeth Riker. From Kindergarten onward we had been neighbors and friends. Together we would rake leaves from Dad’s maple tree to jump into every fall, gather blackberries from our secret places, and swing on adjacent park swings late into the evening. She was pretty good at catching forward passes and well-thrown strike balls when nobody else was around and I don’t think we ever thought of ourselves as being “different” (even though I seem to recall us looking one day, just to shed light on that question.) The day I sensed a change was the evening before I and my family would be following the moving van to far away Vermont. It would be the last swing in the small park we frequented. For all of our growing-up years we had swung and talked together, but that night was different. Neither of us knew what to say. We were 14 years old and somehow, jumping in a pile of leaves was far from our thoughts. It was one of those mysterious “doorway” instants we call “coming of age” – unspoken but deeply etched in a lifetime of memories to come. It was a silent moment of shared magic swelling two young hearts. It would never happen again.
It has been my pleasure over the years to share a multi-media motivational program I call “A SENSE OF WONDER” with largely adult audiences. On one such occasion, as part of a “Women’s Conference” I was prepared and waiting to begin when a mother moved into the very front row, placing five feet away from me a mentally challenged young man, probably 30 and 8 years old. I tried hard not to show my sense of annoyance at this woman’s thoughtlessness; didn’t she know how easily my showmanship might be compromised? Having no choice I proceeded with the program, and as expected the man/boy in the front row was very vocal, sometimes applauding, often exclaiming, if at inappropriate times. As a clearly satisfied and enthusiastic audience filed out afterward, the mother came up to me. “Do you know what my son just said to me?” she asked rhetorically. “He said ‘mother, this was the most important night of my life’.” I realized it had been fulfilling for me as well, and certainly one from which I took away an important life lesson.
Mike was a troubled young man whose life had been plagued with disappointments: a failed marriage, repeated loss of employment, failure to qualify to attend college programs of his career choice and more. He enrolled in a Food History & Cooking class I was teaching for the State Extension Service with my wife’s great assistance. From then on he became what in an earlier vernacular might have been described as a “camp follower”; whenever and wherever I was performing some kind of public appearance, he would be there. Some years went by without contact, but one day he phoned my home. It was a rare Saturday with time for personal “catching up”, but I said he could stop by. When he arrived mere moments later, I knew he had called from his car phone. I listened – I thought carefully – but Mike must have noticed me glancing at my watch. When he finally excused himself without ever telling me specifically why he had come, he paused at the front door to ask: “Don’t you know you’re my hero!” My first reaction was to wonder what right Mike had to saddle me with such a responsibility. Then, I sat down hard, and had a long talk with myself as I considered all the “heroes” in my life, people who had been in just the right place and right time to help me across the hiccups and hurdles of life, and who had opened up for me those moments of magic which are among my most cherished possessions.
(*) My boyhood friend Elizabeth would live to have a large family but would die still young in a road accident caused by a drunk driver.