Almost every Wednesday, I take my grandmother out to eat. She can’t drive anymore, she’s slowly losing her eyesight due to macular degeneration, and she recently fell and chipped her hip socket, so she’s confined to a wheelchair until she heals. Going to the restaurant in town is her social time and her outings throughout the day. However, going to the restaurant with a combination of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and daughter-in-law every Wednesday is one of the biggest highlights of her week especially when she gets to tell everyone in the restaurant “My family takes me out to eat EVERY Wednesday!”
Now, I’ll admit, some Wednesdays I get off work and all I want to do is go home and kick back. But, of course, I know it is the highlight of my grandmother’s week and I treasure my grandmother, so I give her a call, tell her I’m on my way, and then hit it down the road to her house all the while thinking about everything I need to do at home – was the dishes, do laundry, tidy up the living room, catch up on office work, on and on and on. Then, I pull into her driveway and almost instantly after I turn the car off, open my door and step out, I feel like weights have been lifted off of my shoulders. Something about being at Grandma’s house transports me back to the days of being a child. I see the yard where I played with my cousins. I walk into a living room where I used to watch Hee-Haw and play with toys when I was a child. I see my grandmother who used to fix me pancakes for dinner when I came over. I walk back to her bedroom where I used to lay on her bed and watch Ghostbusters, or nostalgically stroll into the hallway where I see the little tea set I used to play with when I was a kid. Life slows down. Stress melts away. I’m reminded of what life is really all about.
Then, we go out to dinner. We go to the same little restaurant every Wednesday and usually order one of our usual dishes – Bacon Cheeseburger with Curly Fries, Wing Dings, Grilled Chicken Wrap, Country Fried Steak. (Not too great for eating healthy, but definitely yummy and a good cheat night!) Then, we eat and talk. She asks me about my cousin (her grandson) that lives in North Carolina… “Is he coming home soon?” she asks. I ask her what she did today. “Oh, nothing really. I just sat around like I do most days.” I feel bad…. I want more free time to enjoy life but time seems to fly by so quickly, and I’m never able to do the things I really want to do. My grandmother has all the time in the world and days drag by for her, yet she is losing her sight, is confined to a wheelchair, can’t drive, and her family is rushing so much that they have to schedule time to spend with her. She has extra time to do anything, but she physically can’t do it. And what’s my excuse??? I’m working??? In the words of my father: “That’s a piss-poor excuse.”
One project I have been working on is trying to record some of the stories and things she tells me. So after dinner, I get her back in her wheelchair, wheel her through the restaurant, and she says good-bye to her friends for the evening. We wave at the waiter who always jokingly tells her to “Come back, but leave that boyfriend of yours at home!” (He’s referring to my step-grandfather, who usually brings Grandma in to eat.) We get outside to the car, I load her in, and drive back to her house where we sit and talk.
By the time we get into the house, she encourages me to leave her, go home, and “Get some rest. You look tired.” I, of course, don’t want to leave her by herself. (Wednesday nights is bowling nights for my step-grandfather.) So I say “No, I’m going to stay with you for a little while, and we’ll chit-chat.” So, we do. We talk about everything – life’s little problems, what’s wrong with the world, what’s right with the world, solve the world’s problems, make big plans to do things, etc., etc., etc.
On this particular September night, however, we started talking about things we had planned to do earlier that summer. Last year, my grandmother told me she wanted to take me and my cousins to the family home place, so she could tell us history and show us where part of our family came from and where she and her brothers and sisters grew up. It didn’t happen last year. Things got too busy. Such a bad excuse. Earlier this summer, I vowed: “It’s GOING to happen this summer!!” After all, my grandmother was 89-years-old. Every day was precious, a blessing. And now what? It was mid-September and summer had gotten away from me again. Because why? Because I was too busy.
What was my problem??? Was I not learning my lesson?? This precious gem of a woman is 89-years-old, and I’m worried about my dirty dishes sitting at home on the counter or trying to figure out how to push my business forward so I could earn more money?? What is wrong with me?!
I told her: “That’s it. I’m getting things off my plate. There are so many things I say I want to do, but because I am trying to work so hard to accomplish things or because I have so many other commitments, I am missing all of the little things in life, all of the important things.” And to myself I was thinking: “I will NOT let my Grandma leave this world before I figure this out! I will not be the one to say ‘I should have taken her on that ride to learn more about our family history.’ I will not be a shoulda, coulda, woulda person!”
This sweet, sweet, innocent woman looked at me and said: “Honey, you work too hard. Grandma is very proud of how much you have done and the things you have accomplished, but you have got to slow down. So many people are running so fast and so hard to get so many things done. You have to slow down because before you know it, time is gone, and you can’t get time back.”
I almost lost it.
What am I going to do when this woman isn’t here one day? Am I going to look back and say “I wish I would’ve spent more time with her,” or “I should’ve taken that trip to the family farm with her.” No! No, “woulda’s” or “coulda’s.” This was too special. I took a snapshot of that moment. My wonderful, sweet, gem of a grandmother sitting in her wheelchair, a woman who used to stand on her own two feet, strong, and who used to play with her grandchildren. A woman who taught me and my cousins about rolling down hills and laughing all the way down. And there she was in front of me – aged, in a wheelchair, and her face wrinkled from years and years of smiling and laughing (and from years and years of stress, hurt, and worry.) She was older. Her best days were behind her. And ten years from now, or five years from now, or five DAYS from now she could be gone, only a memory.
The Stephenson Grandkids and Great-Grandkids reliving our childhood by rolling down the hill at Grandma’s House.
I told her: “We’re going to the farm this Sunday. You call whoever you need to call to arrange that trip, and we will go.” And this Sunday, no matter what, we’re driving down there. And we’re going to take pictures. And she’s going to tell me things. And I’m going to do my best to remember everything. Because that time will be time I will never get back. Once that time is over, it will never happen again, and any time I spend with her from now on is time I will never have with her again.
She’s right – we can’t get time back. So why am I trying so hard to accomplish so many things? Partly because I want to accomplish these things before I, myself, go, but what else am I missing out on? Plenty. Spending time with my family is one of the biggest things. Writing. I don’t do enough writing. Traveling. Even if its little trips. Experiencing life. Just flat out, 100% soaking life up and taking it all in.
Of course, anything you do means you’re not doing something else. While I’m clogging at a competition, there is a family reunion happening at home. While I am on a trip visiting my family, there is a softball tournament going on at home. I can’t travel without earning extra money, so I work so much more, but while I am taking hours on the weekend working on projects, I could be out on the lake kayaking with my cousins. Is the trade-off worth it? That’s for each individual to decide.
I feel like our society today worries most about how much we have and how much of it we have. I have a nice car, but I want that 1978 Trans Am I’ve always had my eye on. I have a good house, but I want a better one. I want the best of everything and nothing will be good enough until it is the best. And I must have the best because if not, I am a failure. And I must work hard all the time because if I don’t, I am lazy. It’s wrong to sit down and read a book because you’re wasting your time, you’re not doing something productive. For whatever reason, that’s what the voices in my head tell me. Work, work, work. And when you’ve worked, work harder because if you don’t, you’re lazy.
I’m finding I’m having to retrain myself on a lot of this thinking… I’ve never thought money buys happiness, but here lately, I find myself desiring to make more money. Why? Travel more, build a house, and trying to line up more money for the future because everyone knows social security for my generation is a joke and my job doesn’t offer a 401(k).
But everyday, the muscles in my neck grow tighter and the lines on my forehead get deeper and my patience gets less and I become more tired… My priorities are wrong.
Now, granted, money can solve a lot of problems – you can travel, you can buy whatever you want, you don’t have to worry about bills… but again, what’s the trade-off? What would I rather them put on my headstone? “Here lies Dorothy. She worked hard?” Or “Here lies Dorothy. She made the most of every moment?” Definitely the second option.
I’ve been to Europe once. Do I want to go back again? Absolutely! Do I think I could? Probably… if I work extra and make extra money. Is it worth it? Maybe. But when I sit back and think… Seeing the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona versus kayaking on the lake with my cousins… That’s a tie. Winning a Grand Championship trophy versus hearing my grandmother tell stories from her childhood? No brainer… Grandma wins every time. Taking a short, inexpensive road trip with my friends versus trading hours of my free time stressing about a project that COULD pay for a fun trip if other bills don’t get in the way first?? No contest – road trip with friends. And finally, laying out underneath a dark night sky looking for shooting stars with a best friend or brainstorming about new marketing techniques? I’ll take the shooting stars with best friends any day.
I guess for some people money and material things are more important. For me, I have to keep reminding myself that I am not that kind of person. Money is great if you’re able to use it for good, selfless reasons or for experiencing awe-striking, once-in-a-lifetime moments that turn to memories. Not to buy the best car or the best clothes or the best house. You can’t take it with you when you go, right?
What IS important is doing whatever you have to at whatever time in your life you need to in order to feel happy, healthy, full of life, relaxed, (insert your adjective here.) And it doesn’t have to happen around big, impressive places or things. “Big” and “impressive” are what YOU decide, and not what society or your peers define them as. YOU decide. What’s important to YOU? Are your priorities straight? Are you making the most of your time?
UPDATE: Grandma and I DID go to the family farm that Sunday, and we had the most magical ride. She took me to her house and where her grandmother and grandfather lived. She said she had so much fun when she was at Grandma’s house. “Those were good times,” she said. I can totally relate….