Appreciating Firsts and Lasts
Iwas thirteen when The Byrds released their recording of Pete Seeger’s song “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season).” It was a hard time in our family, and I sang this song with little understanding. I thought I’d always be sad.
Fast-forward forty-three years to a Sunday afternoon in June. The weather couldn’t have been better in Eden. The air smelled of peaches, and we were picking them by the bushel. My husband’s parents were with us for the weekend—two lovely and lively people in their eighties. Our two oldest grandchildren ran through the garden while their baby brother crawled around on a quilt under the oak tree.
Friends Dan and Mary came to help pick peaches and stayed for dinner. Dan brought CDs—recordings by a favorite jazz band—and we watched our littlest grand do his baby dances. Friend Peggy came with her two daughters, bearing their pet chickens, Buffy and Jody, who had outworn their welcome in their city neighborhood.
Friend Michelle came by with four more hens (without names) and a load of hay she was trading for one of our goats. The city hens and the country hens began competing to be Queen of the Coop, and our granddaughter waved and called out, “Bye, Buddy!” as Michelle drove off with the little buck. After dinner, everyone went home, and we played Scrabble with Mom and Dad and ate leftover peach cobbler.
A perfect day.
Fast-forward another month. The peaches are all processed for the winter. The sweet corn and tomatoes are ripe. The grandboy who could only crawl is walking. And Dad Shortal has had a stroke. He is in no pain, but his memory is not the same, and he says the same things many times. But, oh, what he says: “I’m so blest.” “Aren’t my children lovely?” “It’s a beautiful world.”
We have baby books to record a child’s firsts: first word, first step, first solid food. But what about marking the lasts? The last time a child crawls onto our lap.
The last time we embrace a loved one. The last Scrabble game with our dad.
For everything there is a season.
I write November’s column in late July. Dad Shortal is home now and hanging in there. Yesterday it stormed, and our basement flooded. We sank in mud up to our ankles as we picked beans. The power went out; a skunk came too near the house; the pressure tank on our well went out. And a friend with whom we had experienced a painful rift came by to say “I’m back,” and we hugged, and it made up for the flooded basement and the cost of a new pressure tank and even the skunk.
November is about the passing of time. We remember the saints and the souls who have left our midst. We remember veterans of wars with enemy nations, some of which are now our friends. The citizens of the United States elect a new president.
In November we also stop to give thanks. When times are hard, when you are suffering, when someone you love is dying, when the unthinkable has happened —give thanks, for this, too, shall pass. And when life is good, stop and notice and give thanks. Pay attention so those last precious hugs and Scrabble games are etched in your memory.
As I write this in July, not knowing what November will bring, I offer up the prayer of George Herbert (1593–1633): Thou that haft giv’n so much to me, Give me one thing more, a grateful heart.