Today was one of the first really nice days of spring. It was the kind of spring day I think about when the wicked winds of winters rattle the windows and pound on my spirit. The sky was cerulean blue served up with a generous serving of fluffy white clouds.
I had just finished mowing the law and when I went inside the house I immediately went to the front window, pulled back the drapes, and looked out at the freshly mowed lawn. I thought, to myself, what a great job of mowing…all the lines are straight! The thought that I’m getting too old for this stuff also crossed my mind.
I’ve always hated cutting grass – it seems like such a waste of time. It’s second only to shoveling snow on my list of things I hate to do. The dentist and urologist are also on that list.
Anyway, while I was admiring my mowing skills, I happened to see a young man walking down the sidewalk pushing a young child in a stroller. And suddenly the freshly mowed lawn and the beautiful spring day were woven together into a tapestry of memories – and a few tears too.
The young man was probably in his mid-20’s. The child was probably not even a year old…a baby really. The young man didn’t look particularly happy, but he didn’t look annoyed either. I wondered if he were ordered by his wife, the mom, to take the child for a ride in the stroller so mom could take a nap, make a cake, cook dinner, or whatever else is it young moms like to do.
I wondered, perhaps, if the young man had the day off and decided to spend some time with his child. The day was perfect for a stroller ride, comfortably cool but not cold, a bright sun shining down on them made the day seem warmer than it probably was – a light jacket for the man and a light blanket for the child were all that was needed on a perfect spring day like this one.
And with bittersweet memories I saw myself long ago pushing a child in stroller. I remember spring days just like this one – days that beg you to come outside – pushing a child in a stroller and not giving it any more thought than I would getting in the car and going to the store to pick up a six-pack of beer. It was just one of those things people do – nothing special.
But those days when I pushed the stroller were special, very special. I thought those days would never end and treated them like pennies instead of the priceless diamond they were. I feel guilty now, looking back, that when I held those beautiful days in the palm of my hand, in the center of my heart, they slipped by me with little notice. I did not take time to savor them; I didn’t realize then how powerful, beautiful, and special the memories I was making would later be.
As I watched the young man pushing the stroller down the street I saw myself, decades ago, pushing a child down the sidewalk in a stroller and not giving it much thought at all. And somehow I knew that this young man was just like I was and probably just like every young parent is – you just do things without ever giving a thought to the memories you’re making.
Sure, as young parents we plan birthday parties, vacations, trips to the zoo, special outings and such – and we think by doing this things and taking a lot of photos we will be making special memories we can savor then and later on as well. But most of the time, at least in my experience, the memories we’re most likely to remember don’t ever come from the special events we planned, but come from the most unexpected places – like a walk down the side on a quiet street on one of the first truly nice days of spring.
Most of the precious memories I have of my children are not the one with Ronald McDonald catting up the kids at a birthday party at McDonald’s for a four-year-old. Not sailing down the Niagara River on The Maid of the Mist with a twelve-year-old. Not the trips to Florida and Walk Disney World. The most precious memories I have are days walking through the woods with my kids and “discovering” “rivers”and naming them as if we were all modern-day Magellans exploring the unexplored and giving “newly discovered” rivers names like the Arjami River. To me it was just a creek, but to the children it was a real, honest-to-goodness river.
It was not the well-planned events that brewed up the best memories, not even close. The most endearing and longest lasting memories come from unplanned things, things like getting lost in the woods with my little boy, who suspected we were lost but who wasn’t sure because I kept reassuring him we were not. It’d didn’t matter, really. Looking back, that two-hour hike turned into a five-hour hike because we indeed got lost. Getting lost didn’t matter. These hours were and are precious, irreplaceable hours spent together A father and a son on a bright, blue October day – now so long ago and so far away.
The young man is almost out of site now. I wish I could chase after him and tell him how precious, how dear, how fleeting these special moments are. I wish I could invite him in my house and share with him the wisdom and the folly of my years. But he would never believe me just as I would have never believed an old man telling me how precious the days of being a young father were.
Youth seldom listens to experience and it has always been so, but perhaps that is not so bad, really. We all have to learn in our own way and we all will discover what things are really important and what things are not important at all – and if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to tell the difference.
I watch the young man and the stroller disappear around the corner and see myself, as a young man.
I look out the window and see my failings, my successes, all the best of times and all the worst of times, and all the times in between. And it occurs to me, as it does sometimes, that the past is gone and out of reach and all I can to is try to remember the precious moments of my life and savor them from a great distance.
Maybe age doesn’t always bring wisdom, maybe it just seems that it should. Maybe, if I should be lucky enough to live long enough to look back on today from a distance, I realize that I don’t know any more now than that young man pushing that stroller down the street. Maybe I just have more time to reflect now than I did in my youth – or maybe reflection is just about all I have left. And if that is so, then that is fine with me. Somehow I’m sure that tht’s how life is meant to be. We’re born, we grow, we think, we live, we shrink, and we die, and the wheel of like keeps turning.
Someday that young man with the stroller will be just like me. He will look out the window and remember. He’ll remember that ordinary days like these are not ordinary all, they are more special we could have ever imagined.