Why is it that most of the things in our lives that we should do feel like chores? Eating healthy, exercising, recycling, keeping an organized household, doing yard work, maintaining the car . . . the list goes on and on, but I think you get the picture. As children, simple tasks like unloading the dishwasher were exciting endeavors because we hadn’t done them 8 million times before and they were filled with interesting colors, shapes, textures, and ideas. The simple act of stacking plastic cups as high as they would go and then watching them tumble before putting them away provided endless entertainment. Perhaps this is exactly the point. We as “grown-ups” are too sophisticated to do such silly things as make cup towers before putting them away. We are much to busy to waste our time on such frivolities. We have crammed our lives so full we no longer have time to make simple tasks FUN. And because we don’t take the time to add the ridiculous to the mundane, we find ourselves should-ing our way through life rather than enjoying it. I was pondering this idea while watching my son pretend to be a ghost as he put away his blanket, when I remembered an ad campaign by Volkswagen that I had seen some time ago which centered around this very concept. It was called “The Fun Theory” and its goal was to coax people out of their boxes by taking everyday tasks, injecting them with a healthy dose of fun and seeing how dramatically it improved people’s participation in those activities as well as the quality of their work while doing them. The results were often remarkable. Demonstrating that it’s not that people don’t want to do the things they should, it’s just that most of us are bored and under-stimulated. If we could expand on this idea and start seeking out ways to make ordinary tasks enjoyable, I believe we would all lead much more productive and fulfilling lives. So lets stop should-ing all over ourselves and start looking for ways to make life more interesting and everyday things more FUN!
Today I am humbled and inspired to gratefulness by an unexpected encounter that I had with some gentlemen working in the yard of the vacant house across the street. When Aiden and I went outside to turn on the sprinkler and play in the yard, Aiden immediately became enamored with these workers and was desperate to investigate further. “I go see them, Mommy! I help!”
I was hesitant because I didn’t want to get in the way or seem like we were gawking. The men were not just doing yard work. They were demolishing an enormous deck that enveloped much of the back yard. I’m sure the last thing they needed was a two-year old staring at them, asking odd questions, and insisting he help, right? But then I remembered the many other encounters I have had lately that have so inspired me to engage people . . . to give them the opportunity to share their lives, their passions, their work with someone who is excited to learn about them. So I led Aiden by the hand across the street. I was not disappointed with my decision. The men, who, until that moment, had been quietly engaged in their back-breaking labor in 100 degree weather, stopped, looked up, and smiled. They immediately began addressing Aiden as “little man,” inviting him to sit on their tractor and speaking to him about what it means to work hard. It was like something out of an old southern novel. I couldn’t bear to see them working so hard in this desperate heat, being so kind to my son without offering them something in return. So I went home and brought back iced tea and popsicles.
I was greeted upon my return with phrases like, “Thank you kindly, ma’am!” “You’re too sweet.” “You’re gonna tempt me to go find an easy chair.” As the conversation blossomed, I discovered that the men were brothers. Two of TWENTY children born to their mother, who is currently 89. There were 13 boys and 7 girls that grew up together in Pocahontas, MS. The older of the two gentlemen, who didn’t look a day over 50, if that, said he was 70 years old. And still working hard every day. “What would I do with myself if I stopped?” he asked. He recounted as he pried floorboards off the deck with a crow bar, sledgehammer, and brute strength how he was trying to teach his grandchildren to be eager workers, but “they just aren’t raised like they used to be.” But he always let them help whenever they were willing. The “younger” brother bragged about his family and seemed ashamed to need the help of his older brother, but explained that he has had health problems and just can’t handle it alone anymore.
The longer we spoke, the more filled with respect I was. These men were humble and kind. Lived a simple life, worked hard, and made no excuses. They knew the value of family and earning their keep and would not give up even in the face of age and adversity. Yet somehow I find myself worrying on a regular basis about things like money and time and health, when in reality we have plenty of all three. It is amazing how perspective can change one’s outlook.
As we were getting ready to leave, the younger brother mentioned off-handedly that he “thought sure it was [their] kind that lived across the street . . . black folk, that is.”
“But you know,” he said with a grin, “you’re the first people to come visit us in all the years we been workin’ this yard, so I guess you’re our kind after all!”
Who among us has not heard granny drop the “F” bomb and complain about her food, or her chair, or the pimple on her ass? And our first reaction is often to roll our eyes and dismiss her as a crotchety old person. But you would think we’d have it in us to be a bit more sensitive since we are all just old people in the making. And I’d be willing to bet that most old people would be far less ornery if they were dismissed a little less often. Shown some respect. Appreciated more for the incredible wisdom they house than the faculties they have lost.
Having just finished reading “Water for Elephants,” which is narrated in part by a 93 year old man, and having read the incredible tributes that several friends have recently written about their beloved grandparents upon their passing, I find myself pondering the vast untapped wisdom of our elders and regretting the relatively little exposure I have had to it. I have always lived a significant distance from my grandparents and never been diligent to put in the work it would have taken to develop good long distance relationships. This makes me sad and I hope that, one day, my grandchildren are more diligent than I was.
In considering this elderly wisdom that I have not sufficiently availed myself of, I did some research looking for the advice of old folks. For better or for worse, here are some things I found. Feel free to add to the list.
- We all make mistakes and sometimes the hardest part of making a mistake is letting it go.
- When you think “I’ll just have one more drink” – don’t have it.
- Don’t be surprised when people are not pleased for your success and are happy when you fail.
- Never look at your mom when she’s eating a banana.
- Life is like riding a bike. If you look down or look back, you’ll fall off. The only way to get where you want to go is to look forward.
- Son, now you are married, you must learn this important lesson on dealing with a wife. If you are going out for a night on the town, tell her you are coming home an hour or two later than you actually intend to. That way, when you arrive home ‘early’ she’ll be delighted that you’ve cut short your night out to be with her.
- Never trust a man with a beard, he’s hiding something.
- If you take longer strides when you’re walking, your shoes will last longer.
- Never sleep with a woman who’s problems are worse than your own.
- Never skimp on spending money on a good pair of shoes and a decent bed. If you’re not in one, you’re in the other.
- Always leave a party while you’re still having fun, you’re a young lad now but later you’ll understand.
- He who is scared and runs away, lives to run another day!
- Always take a dump when you’re at work, you’re getting paid for it.
- Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.
- “If we spent as much time feeling positive about getting older, as we do trying to stay young, how much different our lives would be.” Rob Brown
- “Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.” Fred Astaire