I recall a walk Hannah and I took a few years ago . . .
Hannah, my four-legged god spelled backwards, and I were out for our morning walk when I spied the kid. He was skinny and tall, with his body about a year or two of growth and complaining from catching up to his height. And Mr. Skinny and Tall was walking down a driveway while facing forward. Down, then up. And his feet were moving kinda funny.
He was skating on ice with sneakers.
His driveway, with a thin sheen of ice, was like much of the surrounding sidewalks and grass: There was ice or frost everywhere. In last few days we’ve had some seriously cold weather. We are experiencing some slamming-the-citrus-crop frost warnings and the farmers-are-anxious low temperatures. Whether you are a believer in Celsius or Fahrenheit, the overnight numbers are numbing. With few exceptions these are bad conditions for all the folks involved in agriculture. The difference between 27 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit during the stretch of a winter night in the San Joaquin Valley is huge for an orchard of navel oranges. It’s a literal survival-of-the-fruit difference, and about one degree of separation between a farmer gaining or losing a season’s income.
But there was that kid. On the narrow stretch of slick water on his driveway, he was simply being a kid. Up and down. Slip and slide. School was probably starting soon, but there he was, zooming ‘cross the suburban ice fields. His parent might be on the verge of yelling at him to get ready for class, but for now, Mr. Skinny and Tall had fun on his schedule.
Ah, a kid’s life. A puddle in the summer, a driveway’s ice field in the winter. Pleasure. Joy. Slip and slide!
It was a day or so later that I was at the hospital with a guy. A guy who is busy-busy during his typical week, with a spouse who is also busy-busy, and they have kids and responsibilities. But now, as I stand over him, he is lying still in the narrow bed of a hospital room.
He looks lousy. And well he should. I won’t give the details of what he has been through for the last days, weeks, and months, but it’s been a rotten stretch of time. Now he is only twenty-four hours removed from surgery. And now, maybe, what has plagued his body will finally be under control.
I am only with him for a few minutes. He is exhausted. But he talks about the stress of life, of how he kept shoving his worries about his health aside until his body decided to protest being ignored. Suddenly, although it really wasn’t all that sudden, he was slipping and sliding toward the bad news of bad health. And eventually, to the inevitable surgery and the narrow confines of this bed.
He said to me (though not his exact words, they are close enough to count), “I’m gonna slow down. I want to spend more time enjoying life. I want have fun with my kids and spouse.”
Which is to say, with tubes snaking to and from his body, and nurses hovering here and there, he was starting to question his stress-filled, busy schedule where he rarely spent time with the most important people in his life and ignored the only flesh and bones body that he has been allotted.
I am going to change. That’s what he was saying. I now know what’s important.
Recently I read that the percentage of people who, following a major heart attack, actually follow their recovery plan is very low. Or, to be grim about it, a whole mess of folks—even after an obvious life-threatening episode—quickly return to their “old” ways of poor eating habits and little or no exercise. It’s not only the surgery that helps heal a heart; it’s what is done afterwards.
‘Tis hard to change.
And yet the guy in the bed knew. While his health crisis was not a heart attack, he was having a kind of hopeful heart “attack.” He was pondering the price of stress versus the joy of bouncing his kid on his knee. He knew the difference between a narrow hospital bed and walking around the block with his family.
So I think of that kid on the driveway.
School would be starting soon. But there was this moment. Maybe a parent will remind him of the day’s obligations. But, here and now, slip and slide.
Too often, we tuck the pleasures away. Stress becomes our regular companion. Tomorrow’s and next week’s worries wear us down. We multi-task as if we have two brains and four arms.
Where can you slip and slide today? Just for a few minutes. Seriously, don’t be so serious.