I have lived in the realm of academia and spirituality all my life. It is lofty living and I have loved it, but in my retirement years it is time to come down from the loft more often if I want to learn the lessons which down-to-earth life has to offer me. I do want to learn.
Yesterday was a bright, warm Puget Sound day and I had fixated on cooling off with an ice-cream drumstick. Pulled by the vision of hot St. Louis summer afternoons when my Hungarian grandmother gave me a dime to get a pop sickle at the corner convenience store, I headed to the nearby 7-11. Arriving at the door simultaneously was a curly red-haired giant of a youth who bounced in with me. We both made a beeline to the ice-cream freezer and dissolved in giggles at the synchronicity of our meeting. He gurgled with glee, “And they’re on sale two for $4.00! I bought my drumstick and he exclaimed in disbelief, “Only one? But they’re two for $4.00!” “I know,” I replied, “But I shouldn’t eat one, let alone two.” I continued on my way, grinning and wishing I had thought to buy two bars and give him one for a dollar. The simple gift of joy exuding from this young man pulled me into that ordinary space of unadulterated, lavish hospitality.
When I settled into life at my 55+ community, life events drained me of the energy to pay attention to the tasty slivers of ordinary life served up on a daily basis. Three years later I try to relish each morsel that presents itself. This morning I was greeted in the coffee-room by Marge and Louise. They both still work part-time. Marge and her sons catered our Christmas brunch last year. She shares treats baked by her aging hands and brought home to us on the bus. Out at the entrance to the Blakely at 7:30 a.m. I sit with my coffee waiting for the parade of smokers and dog owners to begin. First the smokers burst through the door. They have created an enviable tight-knit community held together by need and exposure to the elements of heat and cold and driving rain. Here come Victor and Jack. It was such fun sharing the excitement of the Superbowl with them in our communal theatre a few months ago. Often at 6:00 a.m. from my sixth floor window, I see Jack at the smokers’ bench sweeping around it. Now come the dogs walking their owners. Gordon’s prissy little Maltese urges him forward, but stops long enough to visit with a Shih Tzu tangled around its mom’s leg by its leash. Joan comes by at walk’s end with her neighbor’s Dachshund/terrier mix. She walks him because her neighbor is no longer able, but also because her own little companion has died.
The parade of life has stopped for now. I honor the different paths it takes in my neighbors. I am learning from the example of my Mennonite friends to wear plain clothes in my heart so I can see the plain truth of others and rejoice in it. Lest you think that I have this down, I report that a daycare contingent of toddlers has just arrived with their caretakers in tow. The toddlers are fine. The caregivers are loudly interfering with every other move the children make and in between complain about the parenting habits of others. This sliver of life fails to draw me in. Good-bye blissful beach.