The day began well as mornings with no agenda normally do. I awoke slowly and lingered in bed for a while before finally heading out to the kitchen to greet the dawn and start the coffee. The sun was peeking through the kitchen window above the sink, and as I washed out the coffee pot, I noticed that the floor wasn’t as chilly as it was the day before. It had been unseasonably warm during the night and out of curiosity, I stepped over to open the back door where I encountered a warm breeze entering through the screen which I have been reluctant to change to the storm window for several weeks now. I grinned as I thought to myself how occasional procrastination isn’t always such a bad idea. I continued to prepare the coffee and threw together a few items for breakfast.
Sitting comfortably on the sofa with my breakfast on the tray, I watched the news for a bit, but remembered that I had some chores to attend to in my office upstairs, and so I brought my cup out to the kitchen, filling it again, and headed up the stairs to get the day started. I gathered a few of my reference books off the shelves to prepare a response to a recent query from a friend, turned on the stereo already prepped with a Mozart CD, and hadn’t even lifted the cover on the book on top of the pile when I heard voices calling me downstairs. I stopped the music and replied to the voices which now seemed a bit more frantic than I was expecting, and wondered what might be the cause. Our oldest daughter had arrived to visit and swore she heard water dripping below the living room floor. With all the storms we’ve been having I chalked it up to leftover runoff from the gutters, but she insisted there might be something wrong, and so I grabbed the flashlight and went under the house for a look. Sure enough, the water filter under the house had sprung a leak, and there was about a half inch of water in the crawl space.
Clearly, it seemed the day had taken a nosedive at that point, since I realized that the only way to get to the leak was to crawl into this space and get to the other side of the house. “Oh, the joys of home ownership,” I thought to myself. After figuring out the repair strategy, and being joined under the house by my intrepid daughter, we managed to shut off the water, replace the filter housing and filter, and although sopping wet and filthy dirty, the repair was complete, and after turning the water back on we all clapped and cheered that at least it wasn’t worse.
As I dragged my soggy self out from underneath the house, I took a moment to glance upwards and noticed that the sun had just gotten past the edge of the roof next door, illuminating the leaves and branches of the surrounding trees. There was water sloshing around in my shoes, my socks were soaked, and it felt like I weighed about twenty pounds more than normal with all the water weight I was carrying, but the job was complete and I took some solace in the fact that at least the sun was out, and the temperature was a mild 66 degrees Fahrenheit. All I could think about was getting in the shower and getting out of my waterlogged wardrobe.
Climbing up the back steps, I looked down and noticed that a variety of different colored leaves had begun to accumulate on the deck. Every year, with so many trees around the perimeter of the backyard, it’s a constant struggle to keep up with falling leaves, although I generally enjoy having them all around while the milder weather permits us to sit out there. The accrual of the multicolored remains from the summer trees is a gift in my view, and it hardly seems like a problem to me at all.
After getting showered and changed, I was sitting on the bed putting dry shoes on, when I looked out the window and gasped at the sight of the rose, clinging to the rosebush out front. I could hardly believe it was there. I hadn’t noticed it in the weeks leading up to the leak, and it seemed to have appeared overnight. Again, I grinned. For years, my mother would always describe someone who did not appear to be well as looking like, “the last rose of summer left a bloomin’ on the vine.”
It seems that the “last rose of summer,” at least in this case, was the harbinger of a rosy outcome for my plumbing dilemma, and brought my mother to mind in a most appealing way. We are all tending to our mother at present as she endures the weight of all of her eighty-six years in home hospice care, and when I see her next, I will tell her about this day, and this rose, and we will both enjoy how the story brought her so vividly to mind.
Some years ago, I photographed Roy Rogers at a meet and greet in New Jersey. A friend of mine recently forwarded an email which reflected on some of the television characters from our childhood years, like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Sky King and Superman and Sgt. Friday, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers, and Captain Noah, and “all those people from children’s television in the 1950’s whose lives touched ours, and made them better.” Nostalgia for those years afflicts many of us “baby boomers,” who remember fondly those years when there were great television heroes during our childhood, who tried to teach us right from wrong, and “how to have and show respect for each other and the animals that share this earth.”
As a result of the invention of television, “we were able to grow up with these great people even if we never met them. In their own way they taught us patriotism and honor, we learned that lying and cheating were bad, and sex wasn’t as important as love. We learned how to suffer through disappointment and failure and work through it. Our lives were drug free.”
While these inferences strike a chord with just about everyone over fifty, there is a deeper issue which many of these nostalgic messages seem to miss. These reminders of life during what now seems like a time of innocence and uncomplicated choices, while they evoke a genuine charm and sense of delight, are actually a result of us remembering, not so much the charming particulars from our daily lives, but rather how the experience of those events and pleasures made us feel, and how they compare to our lives today.
The emphasis generally centers on our fondest memories, and neglects the accompanying difficulties and trials of those times. We lament the passing of simpler times and uncomplicated lifestyles, and yet those times contained many of the same charms and delights that exist in our lives today. We just have to look a little harder because our youthful perspectives have become obscured by maturity and balanced by adversity.
A good illustration of how life has changed over the years can be found by reviewing a recent column by Marc Fisher of the Washington Post, which expressed sadness about the loss of the neighborhood bookstores to the much more economical and less complicated practice of ordering books online at places like Amazon.com. In much the same frame of mind as many of us who cherish the experience of walking amongst the rows of freshly printed pages and browsing our favorite sections, inhaling the scent of new books and cappuccinos, and thumbing through our cherished, secret, and silent worlds, Mr. Fisher’s lament struck such a chord with me that I emailed him expressing my empathy and agreement.
Not even thirty years ago, I wrote to Darryl Sifford of the Philadelphia Inquirer about a column he wrote, which I typed on a manual typewriter and sent to him in an envelope with a stamp. A week later, he responded with a nice note which he also typed on a manual typewriter and mailed to me. I sent my email to Marc Fisher by clicking “send” on my “Hotmail homepage” with my “mouse” at 5:58 PM and received his response at 6:04 PM, just six minutes later!
I’m guessing that our children or grandchildren will be sending each other some kind of “Holographic Laser Visual Message,” remembering how quaint it used to be to type an email on a keyboard, and rather than calling older folks “older than dirt,” they may end up calling each other “older than silicon” or something.
Humanity has begun to evolve less through natural selection and more toward artificial selection as a result of the quantum leaps in new technologies, and as with most circumstances that result from radical changes, those who are able to adapt seem to fare better than those who either cannot or will not embrace the inevitable changes that adaptation demands.
However, what we cannot do is to lose sight of what lies at the core of our humanity. No matter what evolution may require of us as temporal beings in order to adapt and survive, within us and all around us, there is a unity of all living things which connects us to each other and the wider universe.
Jonas Salk, the great pioneer of the polio vaccine, once wrote that “Evolution is no longer a case of survival of the fittest, but rather one of survival of the wisest.” We are now entering one of the most important epochs for our species, and we must find a way to bring humanity together, without sacrificing the hard-won progress of our ancestors that brought us this far. There were many great aspects of our childhood that are no longer existent in the same way today, but the promise of the future, represented by our children and our grandchildren is even more important to consider as we evolve in the centuries to come.