There is a backyard in California where time stands still. I lay down across a giant tractor inner tube and squint up at the bright sunlight shining dappled through the leaves. The grass is green and a bit too long. Odd fences crisscross the yard, remnants of dog breeding attempts. But right now I’m all alone, eating a hot dog with mustard, kicking my bare feet, and channeling my mother.
This yard is the only place she and I have shared, the same place, the same ages. Generations melt away, and I know that we are for once sharing the exact same experience. I hear the traffic driving by that she heard, the same frog sounds in the pond across the narrow dirt lane. I smell the grass and blackberries she smelled, and taste he same French’s mustard. I cold hot dog leaves the same greasy coating on the roofs of our mouths. We feel the sunburn on small spots of our skin where branches let the molten sunlight through. We both avoid scorching hotspots on the dull black tube.
Nothing in my mother’s life paralleled my own except this one summer afternoon in this yard on La Barr Meadows Road. She who married at 16 and finished high school, GED, at 35. Six older siblings and no dad, living always in California with rain and plants growing wild. Me a mom at 30, college graduate, oldest of four, and boy did I have a father in my life. Growing up in deserts, nothing grows by accident or of its own volition. Rain is still a fascination to me now, I’m 41.
And her life wasn’t sunshine, but I got to see her carefree and happy when we shared a sunny afternoon when we were both 12.
The wisest eighteen year old I’ve ever known once told a group of rapt listeners, sitting at his feet Socrates style, that being eighteen was a lot like being . . . thirteen. I’d expected him to say seventeen. We anticipate the wisdom which reminds of that we’ve actually only aged another day, not the year children picture passing in the time from midnight till they wake up on their birthday. The disappointment and bewilderment was palpable as the seventeen years olds grappled with the loss of the magical transition they’d anticipated.
My surprise turned to wonder and joy. “He gets it.” I love when they (teenagers) get it, when they get anything. But that was when I was 29. And now I revisit the wisdom to share that 41 is a lot like thirteen too. And I’m a little disappointed and bewildered at the lack of the mysterious transformation I’d been looking forward to.
We gain guru status slowly, haltingly, and sometimes we lose our followers. It’s pretty difficult to be wise enough that everything we say sounds profound all the time. And if the wisdom we spout is tinged with disillusionment, well I don’t blame them for going—it’s a bummer.
But I remember wise people who’ve participated in my life. I have my favorites depending on my moods and my circumstances. I reflect on what they’ve taught me. Once in a while. Today I’ll think of them more and appreciate thinking of them more. I’ve had wisdom shared in my life. Praise the Lord for the good people he’s sent to fascinate me and to impart a bit of what they’ve learned.
When it’s my turn to share a bit with someone, will I have it ready? Will I be in the right place in my mind to dispense the nugget they’ll remember? Or will I be worrying about the way the seam in my sock is rubbing against my toes?