Angels Like To Play In Dirt

Today is a big day in our household, Vera. Someone qualifies for Social Security (although she’s not claiming her benefits yet). A lot has happened in those 62 years. Fortunately for me, 46 of them have been shared with me, nearly 40 in marriage. So what have I learned during that time that could be relevant to you? I’ve jotted down a few of the more important discoveries at the end of this post. But first, a word about how it all unfolded.

We met in high school after my parents moved to my grandparents’ farm and forced me to change schools. I said I’d never forgive them. I meant it. A few years ago your great-grandmother joked about that. I reminded her I still hadn’t forgiven her. I fibbed.

The move is an example of unintended consequences. At the time, I saw only the bad — the fracture of childhood relationships and being forced into a new environment. Yet I realize that, but for that move, I never would have met the girl that would one day become your grandmother. It’s funny how things work out.

It reminds me of a wise Taoist master who once said something to this effect: Good? Bad? Who knows?

He was making an important point. We tend to categorize events quickly as being either a good or bad development, when in reality it’s impossible to know. We can’t begin to appreciate the long-term consequences, and we’ll never know what might have been but for the development. So when I think something has happened that is “bad” (a word I try to use less and less the older I get), I frequently say these words in my mind: Good? Bad? Who knows?

In any event, your grandmother and I fell in love in 11th grade. Three things attracted me to her: (1) her great mind (she’s smarter than me); (2) her fabulous personality; and (3) her physical attributes.

Regarding the latter, her obvious good looks were highlighted by incredible eyes and gorgeous legs. Teens wore very short skirts in the early ’70s. If you want to know what I mean about the legs, check out our high school yearbook. (I was a layout editor.)

As for her smarts, she was our high school valedictorian. She got only A’s. She was and is very smart. And wise. About the only thing I outdo her on is height and strength. Other than that, she’s the best in our household.

After that first intense year in 11th grade, the next 46 years flew by. Old people tell young people that time flies, but more often than not it just makes them (now me) sound old. Young people can’t relate to what the old-timers are saying. And, any way, what can you do about it?

I suppose all you can do is to make every day and every year count. I think most of us do that to a large extent, but I also think many of us spend too much of our time preparing for and thinking (worrying) about the future. What I’ve learned is, it’s important to live in the present. I’m still working on the worrying.

Your great-grandmother says she doesn’t worry. She’s “just concerned.” Sounds good to me. Self-delusion is an amazing thing.

But back to what I’ve learned with your grandmother. The older we got, the more I realized your grandmother had an unusual heart. Pure is the word that comes to mind.

I recall the time she took in her bedridden godmother–someone she didn’t know particularly well–rather than see Philadelphia Social Services stick her in a county home. People thought your grandmother was crazy. She didn’t care. She saw a need and addressed it. She cared for Aunt Betty. To know the true meaning of a word, you need to see it in action. I did. Compassion.

I recall how your grandmother helped care for my dying father — not because she had to, but simply because he needed help.

When we were living on campus at Bridgewater College, a single immigrant mother was in a tough spot. She had no one to keep her young boy when she was in class. He waited outside the classroom, reading and bothering no one. But the dean said he couldn’t. The college touted itself as being a “community.” Yet when one of the members of the community had a need, the message was, deal with it or drop out. For this single mother from a foreign land, dealing with it posed an impossible challenge.

I told your grandmother about the student’s dilemma. She said the boy, who was very shy and reticent, could stay with her. In no time, they were pals. It wasn’t long before he insisted his mother invite us over for dinner at their place. He had found a friend. Community. It’s more than a slogan.

Kids are good judges of character. If you run across an adult whom kids (or dogs) don’t like, be on guard. I’m sure Kosmo would agree.

Your grandmother has been a gardener for a long time. She loves planting and caring for perennial flowers in particular. It’s hard in Colorado. Due to the dry climate, everything has to be irrigated. And the soil is crap. It’s nothing like Pennsylvania top soil.

So what is she doing? She’s subdividing plants and reworking the flower beds in the common areas owned by the homeowner’s association.

I’m not sure there is anything she enjoys more than digging in dirt, subdividing plants and bringing new life to tired and worn flower beds. You wouldn’t believe what she did with our 2-1/2 wooded lot back in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, she’s a tick chick. She had Lyme disease four or five times. Continuing to dig in the rich Chester County soil entailed unacceptable risks in my opinion.

But she still loves gardening. When I don’t know where she is, I know there is a good chance she’s outside, kneeling by a bed and digging in the ground. It brings her immense pleasure.

I haven’t told her yet, but that’s how I want to remember her and that’s how I want her to remember me. I used to think that, when I died, I wanted her to spread my ashes from a magnificent vista in the Rockies — a place that is special to me. I’ve changed my mind.

I think it would be better if she put my ashes in the ground and planted a beautiful flower on top. It just seems right.

So what have I learned the past 46 years with your grandmother? Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Nothing trumps love. If you can spend your life with someone you love and who loves you back, you are one lucky person. Everything else pales in comparison.
  • Virtue and compassion are important. Every time I have to spend much time with people who are deficient in these traits, I appreciate your grandmother even more.
  • Time does indeed pass quickly. The span between cropping that photo of my girlfriend for the yearbook and today seems incredibly short. Time is precious. Try not to treat it as an inexhaustible commodity.
  • Life is lived in the present. Try not to spend so much time thinking about the future.
  • Good? Bad? Who knows?
  • Angels like to play in dirt.

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