On Monday morning, I dropped by my parents’ house after going running, just as I do nearly every weekday of the school year. I stayed for about twenty minutes. During that time, my mother told me a story about how sometimes she can hear easily her yoga teacher easily during the Buddhist meditation component of the class, and other times she has trouble. (It seems to depend where in the room my mother has positioned herself for the class.) Then my father announced that after fifty years of marriage, he only that very morning understood for the first time why my mother puts sticks of butter atop the refrigerator. (She does this because the faint heat that emanates from the coils brings the butter to just the right consistency for baking. Previously – for five full decades – Dad had thought she just considered it a convenient storage spot.)
It was mundane even by the usual standards of our weekday morning get-togethers. But while driving home, I thought about some of the other women I know and the recent discussions they’ve described with their parents. One friend is desperately – and unsuccessfully – trying to convince her mother to seek treatment for alcohol abuse. Another friend has to determine the best placement for her father after his upcoming heart surgery. And another worries that her mother, who is diabetic, doesn’t seem to care enough about her own health to eat the foods that will keep her out of a coma.
And suddenly it seemed like a tremendous gift that on that particular morning, my parents and I had nothing more important to discuss than butter storage and yoga acoustics.
I don’t mean to suggest we haven’t had our share of serious concerns. Like all families, we too deal with health problems, intrafamilial conflicts, financial decision-making, and other emotionally demanding topics. But not on this particular morning. This time, it was all trivial.
And that seemed like something for which to be particularly grateful, as I thought of my various friends. Over lunch the same day, my friend Lisa and I were discussing some of the more difficult situations going on with the friends and family members around us. “Why does it all seem so difficult right now?” Lisa finally asked.
“It’s not all so difficult,” I corrected her. “We’re just focusing on the things that are. We forget about the things that aren’t. But let me tell you about this morning’s visit with my parents.”
She understood. (And she also thought that warming butter to room temperature on top of the fridge was a great idea.) She saw what I meant, that it’s easy to overlook the non-demanding encounters and relationships rather than recognize what a welcome break they can be.
I admit, when my mother finished telling me the story about yoga and Buddhist acoustics, my first thought wasn’t gratitude for her well-being; it was a more prosaic “Well, there’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.” But as I thought about it more, I recognized it as the gift it was. I'm lucky that I live five minutes away from my parents and can drop in to visit with them every morning. But I’m even luckier that as often as not, all we need to talk about on any given day are the simplest details of life. Serious conversations matter too, and shouldn’t be avoided or dreaded. But quotidian details can sometimes be the best possible marker that for the moment, all is well.