Many years ago, when I was fresh out of school and panting after wisdom, I asked my grandfather to tell me what 90 years of living had taught him. "Not much," he said, and laughed. "No, really. Give me something to chew on. There must be something." "Well," he said, looking up at the ceiling, "I guess I could say I've learned that things rarely turn out as well as one hopes or as badly as one fears. I guess I could say that." At the time, of course, his words made little impact. But as the years rolled by, I began to understand the wisdom they contained, especially regarding fears.
This week my wife and I will celebrate our 50th anniversary. Like many friends of similar age, we plan no lavish festivities. Dinner with the family, and maybe a glass or two of champagne. We've arrived at a stage in life where just waking up each day seems celebration enough (though come to think of it, we went to a wedding a month ago and talked and laughed and sipped and danced so vigorously we could barely walk the next morning). When it comes to weddings, opinion as to what makes sense varies widely.
Of all the capabilities we humans enjoy, there is none so important as our ability to dream. I speak not of "dream" in the sense of what happens while sleeping, but rather "dream" as a vision of what could be. Schooled as we may be by the infamous hard knocks of life, there is nevertheless not a single reality more potent and life-enhancing than the power of one's dreams. As young folks we dream of many things. The little child may dream of being gifted with superhuman powers.
Every so often the Fates conspire to bring us poor mortals a treat. Ours came in the form of a tattered paperback, discovered by my wife in the bookstore at our local library. Unlike most books, which cunningly meter out smidgens of information in a carefully calculated sequence, this one spills the beans right on the front cover. There, under the words "The No S Diet," the contents are spelled out as as follows: "No Snacks. No Sweets. No Seconds. Except on days that start with S." How much simpler can you get?
Some weeks ago my wife and I, together with another couple, paid a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Established in the 1890s, Biltmore was the brainchild of George Washington Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the wealthiest industrialist of his time. George, by nature quiet and intellectual, evinced no interest in the family businesses and left the running of them to others.
Last Tuesday morning a big, white truck pulled up outside our house and two beefy young fellows came to the door wheeling a furniture dolly. No words were necessary. I opened the door and gestured toward the old kitchen range, which I'd already moved out from the wall. Moments later they had it strapped on the dolly and were taking it out to the truck. As I watched it go, I couldn't help but feel conflicted.
During a recent foray to Florida, my wife and I kept running into people playing pickleball.
A week ago my wife and I walked down to the shore of the small lake we live near to see what was going on. Each spring, with the melting of ice and the greening of branches, we feel compelled to take inventory of returning life forms, most of whom happen to sport feathers, and to give them a hearty welcome. Nearing the edge of the pond we heard the unmistakable burble of a red-winged blackbird; a male, no doubt, come to lay claim to some choice territory from which to attract a mate.
In the first few pages of her newest book, "The Human Age," Diane Ackerman draws the following sketch of human history: "People who are recognizably human have walked the Earth for roughly two hundred thousand years. During those millennia, we survived by continuously adapting to our fickle environment. ... After a passage of time too long to fully imagine, we began rebelling against the forces of nature. We grew handy, resourceful, flexible, clever, cooperative. We captured fire, chipped tools, hewed spears and needles, coined language and spent it everywhere we roamed.
A recent conversation with a friend about the pros and cons of buying precious metals unearthed a mother lode of boyhood memories, all centered upon the actions of our next-door neighbor, Mr. Nielsen, and his intriguing quest for gold. At the time, our family lived in northern Illinois and the Nielsens lived across the street from us in a pleasant house with an attic. Like many other Long Lake dads, Mr. Nielsen took the daily commuter train to and from Chicago, where he worked as a Linotype operator. But his real passions lay elsewhere.