When life gets in the way

By John Piotti | May 22, 2014

Last week I did something I seldom do: I prepared an outline for an upcoming column. I was so proud of myself. I was thinking ahead. And it was a doozy of a topic — timely and important.

I wrote extensive notes, and I could clearly see it all coming together. It was going to be powerful and persuasive. It was going to be my best work yet: a column that was going to open minds, even change minds. And in so doing, I was going to do my small part to help change the world. (I wasn’t kidding that it is an ambitious topic!)

At least, that was my plan. I haven’t written that column yet. I still hope to. (But to be safe, I won’t mention the topic here, just in case I never get around to it.)

So, what happened? Not laziness. (That’s not in me.) Not procrastination. (Definitely not procrastination: I started earlier and did more advance work on my intended column than I ever have before.)

No, what happened is that the past few days have just been too full, with too much going on. Not too much other work (that’s always the case, and I generally can deal with that). But too much of the good stuff in life — stuff that made me realize that this was not the time to work on a serious column.

Late last week, Anna came home from college, refilling the house will energy. Anna’s presence changes things. One example is dinner. We are a family that always puts time into preparing and then enjoying the evening meal; but when it’s Susan, John, and me, we linger over dinner for maybe 30 minutes. With Anna home, dinner conversations and time at table can stretch out to hours.

And then there is the cooking. With Anna helping in the kitchen, dusty cookbooks get opened. And Anna finds (and uses) exotic spices and condiments that have been left untouched on some back shelf of the fridge or pantry since she was last home. Meanwhile, a trip to the grocery store takes on the air of an expedition, in part because we are more often than not seeking out some rare ingredient, and in part because food shopping begins to resemble provisioning for some grand adventure.

Since Anna has come home, we have had all our dinners in the dining room, even though we have a perfectly lovely kitchen with a perfectly lovely kitchen table. It’s because we can’t fit all the different salads and side dishes and sauces and garnishes on that kitchen table (which may be lovely, but is not large).

But Anna is only part of it. John got to me this past week as well.

On Saturday, we drove to the University of Maine, where John was singing as part of the All-State Chorus. There is nothing like seeing a group of high-school kids give their all for a performance — be it signing, or drama, or basketball. Susan and I were among the hundreds of proud parents in the audience. The music was exceptional. But oddly, what made us feel best was when just before the performance began, with John already on stage, he systematically scanned the Collins Center looking for us. Because John is a laid-back, take-it-in-stride, seldom-show-any-emotion kind of kid, seeing him search for his family was uncharacteristic and unexpected. It did our hearts good — so good that I began waving my arms wildly when I saw his eyes moving toward us. I did this just as the president of the Maine Music Educators Association was recognizing former presidents in the audience, so I’m pretty sure that I appeared to some as a particularly enthusiastic past president.

Then that night was John’s Junior Prom. I didn’t expect this event to have any impact on me, but boy was I wrong. That morning I found myself cleaning out the car he would use that night. And not just picking up trash and loose change and assorted winter gloves and window scrapers. No, I scrubbed and vacuumed our old Honda Civic as I had never scrubbed or vacuumed any car before. I even bought my first bottle of Armorall trying to restore some luster to the dash and steering wheel. Clearly, I wanted John to have a special night. And I was not alone.

Once back from U-Maine that afternoon, John hit the shower, and Susan and Anna began laying out different articles of formal wear. As a Mount View Chamber Singer, John has a black tux, so he saw no need to rent one; but this was not the night for a tired school-issue shirt, and his green bowtie and cummerbund would not work with his date’s red dress. So Susan and Anna dug out my old tux (purchased in college), finding in the process a formal white shirt, a dapper gray vest, and various accessories. I then got into the act by tearing through my top bureau drawer until I uncovered a set of studs and cufflinks (new items for John). I even offered to iron the shirt myself, and did so eagerly. Meanwhile, Susan and Anna were all involved with trying to fold a handkerchief for John’s breast pocket. We had a blast helping him get ready. (Moreover, I now have a taste of what it must be like to be a bridesmaid.)

It’s been quite a string of days. Last Friday, I came home to an unexpectedly beautiful evening, and, thanks to Susan, a newly planted garden and just-picked asparagus for dinner. On Saturday, after John left for his pre-prom gathering, we had dinner with my mother, where I could marvel, as I often do, at how she and Anna interact, despite 75 years separating them. Then on Sunday night, John had a Chamber Singers concert in Brooks. We had just seen John on stage at the Collins Center in what had been a truly exceptional concert, but nothing sends my heart soaring more than the Mount View Chambers Singers, because the music erupts from our own local kids. They take such pride and pleasure in what they do.

Beyond all that, I did something on Sunday I haven’t done for months. I read. Read for pleasure, that is. Just pulled out a book and read for hours. It was glorious.

So that was my last four days —a collection of experiences that reminded me of what it means to be alive. It just felt good. And I was too busy living to do much more.

That serious column can wait.

John Piotti of Unity runs Maine Farmland Trust. His column “Cedar and Pearl” appears every other week.

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