A few years ago, the boys (yeah, I know my sons are 33 and married with children) and I were talking about what to give each other for Christmas. We went through the usual suggestions—ties, shirts, some Alabama gear. And then one of them asked me this question: “If we could give you anything you wanted for Christmas, what would you ask for?”
I looked back at my son and said, “You can’t give me what I want.”
“Why not?” he asked. “Tell us what you want, and I bet we can get it for you.”
“No, you can’t. I want you to be twelve again. I want to go back to those days when we would watch ball games together with all three of us sitting in my recliner. You on one arm of the chair and your brother on the other. I would have my arms around you and pull you so close I could smell your hair.”
“Smell our hair? Dad, you’re gross.”
They never did get that. They didn’t understand it until they had children of their own. Now, they both sheepishly admit that one of their own small joys is smelling the hair of their daughters.
When the boys were growing up, we literally rode my recliner into the ground. The cloth on the arms was worn through. The mechanics of the chair had been sawn through by the constant wear and tear. When we tried to relocate the chair to another room, it disintegrated into a pile of springs, bolts, and thread-bare cloth. That chair had been such a large part of my life, I felt the chair deserved a proper funeral of its own. I felt bad when I finally hauled the chair to the dump.
If you asked me to pick the best moment of my life, I won’t tell you about winning a great prize or when I put some trophy on my shelf. My life has had its successes, but those aren’t the treasures I’ve put in that little room in my soul where only I go. You know the room. All of us have a room in our souls where only we go. It’s the place we keep those things that ultimately matter to us, and it’s the place we go to when we want to figure out if our lives have mattered at all.
These moments aren’t the kind of trophies that would impress you, and honestly, that’s not important to me. Not anymore. I confess it used to be. There was a time in my life when I was aggressive, success driven, goal oriented, and determined to change the world. I wore out everyone around me. I wore out myself, and I certainly didn’t change the world.
I began to understand this lesson one day when I was watching the America’s Cup yacht races, and I saw the racing yachts pick up their speed when they extended skis from their hulls. I was captivated. A boat on skis! Who would have ever thought of such a thing? The announcer explained the skis were extended to decrease the drag of the boat pushing through the water. Water produces friction which slows the boat down.
Here’s what I found out. Love creates friction. Rubbing two lives together creates moments of tension and discomfort. If it’s a best friend relationship, there are going to be moments of hurt feelings and words meant one way are taken another. If it’s a parent/child relationship, there are going to be moments of unspeakable frustration—for both the parent and the child. If it’s a marriage, the friction will be created by everything from who takes out the garbage to failing to understand why certain actions hurt the other.
The temptation will be to pick up speed—to loosen the ties of the relationship and move on faster in life. Friends are relegated to social media. We stay in touch, but we don’t have to actually see them. Children are hurried through childhood into adulthood, whether they are ready or not. Marriages become functional. They work, but they lose their magic and joy.
And you miss the miracles of the small moments. You miss your child’s laughter when they proudly tell you their first joke. “Knock, knock,” she’ll say, and yes, you’ve heard the joke, but you haven’t heard it the way she tells it.
You’ll miss the moment when a friend tells you an embarrassing story just to see if you’re the kind of friend they can trust with a real story—a story of heartbreak and failure they can’t seem to get over.
You’ll miss the moment of hearing your mom or dad tell you they’re proud of you because for some generations words don’t come easily. Their pride is shown in a small smile or slight lift of the head. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it’s easy to miss if you’re moving too fast.
Did you know a submarine can travel so fast it can’t hear its own sonar? The rushing of the water over the sonar buoys drowns out everything else. And if we’re not careful, we’ll be running so fast we’ll end up in a hurry to someplace we really didn’t want to be.
Worse, we will have to run past all of those moments—those small miracles—the ones that make life worth living in the first place. As Garrison Keillor reminds us, “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”