Take My Breath Away...
A rough-hewn plaque saying, Ve Git Too Soon Oldt Und Too Late Schmart sat on my grandparents’ mantel. I didn’t know what it meant and never asked about it. Funny then, that more 50 years later I remember the plaque (and, of course “get” its meaning).
We didn’t have proverbial plaques in the house where I grew up. As an adult, I have smiled at decorative adages and aphorisms of the Hallmark variety—the apron that announces, Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off, the plaque that suggests, Alcohol, because no good story ever started with a salad… or the mug that boasts, I survived another meeting that should have been an e-mail. But I haven’t surrounded myself with them. So it was interesting to arrive at the charming beach home we won at a charity auction to find that the friends who donated it had decorated their “getaway” with fun and inspirational words of wisdom. Plaques, framed calligraphy, even “wise” refrigerator magnets were as integral to the décor as the more traditional seascapes and family pictures.
As the week passed, I found myself ruminating on the messages our hosts enjoy and share with their guests, and in the process getting to know them better. Clearly, family and faith are their focus, along with friendship, fun and striving for a meaningful life. “I’d like to spend more time with these folks, I thought (and we have, since returning home). The messages were short and sweet but not necessarily simple. It’s a flip-flop kind of day, for example. Simple words, if you just feel like slipping on your sandals and heading for the beach, but more complicated considering that any day can be a flip-flop—you might wake up optimistic only to suffer a crushing loss, or wake up feeling defeated only to see yourself overcome the challenges by the day’s end. So, when you have a flip- flop day, here are wise words to consider—these found on a notepad in the kitchen: Keep your promises, laugh out loud, be silly, be happy…Nothing is worth more than this day. Follow your heart. Not always easy, but a good goal.
Like other snooty college English majors who thought “The Prophet” was as trite as Rod McKuen’s poetry, I wasn’t crazy at first about a plaque bearing Khalil Gibran’s words, beginning, Your children are not your children; they are the sons and daughter’s of life’s longing for itself…” But the more I read it, the more I liked it. Sometimes things are trite because they are true and worth repeating.
There was one no-brainer: Wine improves with age. The older I get, the more I like it. “We’re on vacation—let’s buy a more expensive bottle than usual, ” became my mantra. Another plaque was especially relevant for baby boomers like me: The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Yep, if you retire, you have permission to sleep in, read a book and do the laundry tomorrow.
There were many other words of wisdom throughout the house, too many to capture here, including a framed Marriage Prayer that offered much better advice than, “Never go to bed angry.”
But my favorite plaque was this: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.
Weeks later, I still am mentally cataloging my breath-taking moments, not just the monumental firsts—kisses, babies, days of school, graduations, weddings, and grandchildren—but moments such as seeing Klimt’s “The Kiss” at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna or Millet’s “The Gleaners" at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, familiar images that were so spectacular in person…looking down at the sea the from Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher or out at a tangerine sunset on Key West…skiing “International” and “Riva Ridge” in Vail…watching my 3-year-old ride her Big Wheel over a 6-foot wall and grin up at me from the grass below…hearing my dad, gone now many years, say grace at Thanksgiving...seeing my mom, at an age when most seniors are in nursing care, head out to dinner and the theater with friends...stroking the head of my trusting golden retriever as he took his last loving breath.
Life experiences like these that truly took my breath away remind me of another plaque in our vacation hosts’ home—a sentiment many of us feel but don’t often take time to express: Simply Blessed.