“There is no long run without devotion, commitment, persistence.” – Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit
It had been a long, hot summer and school was starting soon. Yet thanks to my tyrannical inbox and the schedule of the self-employed, we hadn’t yet escaped the house.
Where else to go but home to Tahoe?
It’s actually my grandma Tillie’s home, but she says it’s mine and I’ve been coming my whole life. And since Mom and Dad moved into the addition, it’s like a 2 for 1 deal.
So the Silva girls and I left Oregon and my bedroom office piled high with books to be read (and the ones being written), and made the 11-hour drive.
Her house isn’t fancy, but we always feel a bit elect returning to this world-class place.
On our last day, after eggs and linguiça, my dad hooked up the trailer with the kayaks and paddleboards one more time and we went to the beach made entirely of pebbles. As we set out the chairs and blanket, I remarked how amazing it was they could come down here any time they wanted.
“Honestly,” my mom said. “we don’t usually come down unless people visit.”
And because my brain is always working something out, I thought of how hard it can be for us writers to make the effort unless we know someone’s going to read it.
“Because it takes extra effort?” I asked.
She laughed. “I guess so.”
We chatted some about life and its demands and then my wise, 85-year-old Grandma Tillie, the one who paid for my piano lessons all those years my parents couldn’t, showed up and sat near me beneath the umbrellas. “Some people are naturally patient,” she said. “I’m not.” We laughed. “I just don’t have the patience to work at things anymore,” she said.
I nodded, knowing the pain she’s in and how she spends every effort to ignore it and not complain, even coming to see the girls learn to use the paddleboards she bought “so they’d come up and see me.” I thought how she’d struggled with her arthritis and sickness during the week, and how I’d struggled to make even a little extra effort after my ankle injury several months ago. I’d learned how selfish I can get about things like comfortable chairs and parking spaces. And I didn’t want to be, but if extra effort involves even relatively small amounts of personal suffering, I start weighing out how much I think it’s going to hurt.
It’s got to be so difficult to hurt like my sweet grandma does. The blood pressure machine and the medication bottles in her bathroom fill in for what she doesn’t say.
We cheered for the girls standing on the boards. They have no such worries, enjoying making efforts to learn new things nearly every chance they get.
I still recall nearly 30 years ago, running hard to get ready for football. I rounded the curve for home panting like a dog when the lightning bolt struck:
This is the level of effort life requires.
I slowed, staggered a bit. Such severe effort would require unbelievable amounts of commitment, endurance and patience I didn’t yet have.
But in that moment, I knew: my only choice was to make the effort needed.
All week, if we needed something from the store, we walked to town. When we needed sunscreen or water, we found it. On Tuesday, when we’d hiked a couple miles to Snow Lake, we lost the trail and had to bushwhack a few times.
Then, after the beach and the local art walk, on our last evening before heading off again, Grandma Tillie joined us in the living room to introduce the girls to the movie Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart as the possibly-simple-minded Elwood P. Dowd. And my dad pulled out the pictures of his high school production when he played Dr. Sanderson and nearly kissed the beautiful Nurse Kelly.
We ate Grandma’s famous triple-chocolate cake and listened to Elwood share his famous life philosophy:
“In this world, you can be smart or you can be pleasant. I was smart for many years. I recommend pleasant.”
And I didn’t say it because, well, the movie wasn’t over and I don’t always make the extra effort. But I thought how life comes down to that simple choice, choosing to make the effort even when it involves some personal suffering. Eventually, despite any help, love and talent you’re given, the thing of true value is your choice to make the effort. Because soon, and sooner than you think, there’ll be no time for anything anymore.
We talked about many things before we left, of the benefits of xylitol and about the tyranny of social media and email. But all the time I was thinking, Who doesn’t want to be pleasant, giving and full of love? Patient with others? Good-natured about things like joints and ankles and our bodies’ frustrating betrayals? And at least before time runs out for good, to simply relax more?
So if it takes a week’s vacation to remember, that’s okay: to have all those things, I simply have to make the effort and learn to savor each moment.
In all I’ve yet to learn, I pray I can remember what I learned from my grandma and my daughters that week: that the secret is to simply make the effort to choose to accept the great gift of each new day….
whatever effort may be required.
“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” – Ernest Hemingway