by Bob Bekins
The greatest luxury of youth is a lack of complications. Though it may feel like it, failing one exam is not the end of the world. You can change your college major or pick up a new trade. You can just say the heck with it and go hitchhiking around Europe or join the armed services. You can become a missionary in Madagascar or sell legal insurance door to door. Doing what you wish is freedom.
Then you marry. Now there are two brains that decide together on the agendas, dreams, careers, goals, savings, expenditures, friends, having children and how many of them. Should we buy one car and a bus pass or two cars? Where to go on vacation, even what to have for dinner are questions. Mainly you decide what to do with all your free time while you still have choices.
Then you have children. Time evaporates the first day as you research whether to call the first girl Whitney, or Denali, or Sequoia. You labor over nicknames she will pick up on the playground that will stick with her for life like Whit or Denny or Seqsy because she is your baby girl and everything matters. Then comes baby number two who can’t pronounce his sister’s name and she becomes Why or Dan or Sissy and the name sticks. One day you wake up and realize that the world has ignored your plans and we are only talking about her name, for lands sake!
You’re still under the illusion that you can plan who she will marry, where she will go to college, and how many grandkids you will have. Then she turns six and tells you what all of that is going to be. “I’m going to marry a handsome boy who is a sailor, and we will live on a farm in Kansas and raise unicorns.” You can’t stop laughing long enough to get the name of the bus that just ran you down.
Then you blink.
The three kids are gone. Sissy is a violinist with a traveling symphony out of Cleveland, Simon is on his third college major in Helsinki, and you haven’t heard from Sam in three months but rumors are circulating that she is working in a refugee camp in Sudan. Your pride and frustration are off the charts.
Then you turn 70. You need knee replacement but your cardiologist says unless you lose some weight, she won’t sign off on it. Health insurance choices get made around the next suspected malady. The ankle you broke at 10 kicks in with arthritis which you were told would arrive by 50. You are unusually grateful about this for no apparent reason. Everything you love to eat is bad for you and who on earth is in charge in the state capital?
Then, seven years, four months, and 13 days after you retire they all show up to Thanksgiving dinner. The kids, your knees, the arthritis, your plans from the past and all the things the cardiologist said not to eat are there. Around 6 PM as you savor a piece of pie you look out over them. In a moment you realize that you had nothing and everything with to do with the way things turned out. In that instant the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus smiles and says, “You finally understand. Have another piece of pie.’