Your Birthday Gift to Me
I'm writing this letter to you at the shore. When I came out of my room this morning and started planning my day in my head, I didn't pay attention to the ocean or the waves. But outside the waves formed out on a quiet sea, a hundred yards from shore. Moving steadily, these waves broke onto the beach, while, a hundred yards out, new ones were taking form.
All this continued while I was busy planning my day and listing the calls I had to make. The waves went unnoticed. So did the smells in the air and the sounds around me. So did my breath. And genuine emotions went by unnoticed too. How long would it be, in the midst of my multi-tasking, before my life went unnoticed?
Sam, the most powerful lesson I learned about noticing came on your last birthday.
Your father had been telling me for months that you were a good little golfer. And enthusiastic. He even got you your own set of golf clubs. I was delighted when I heard how much you liked the game. And then along came your birthday—and you and your father invited me to go on the golf course with you. I was overcome with emotion. That’s because I had not bee on a golf course since my accident twenty-five years ago.
Before I became a quadriplegic, I loved to play golf. My father, like yours, taught me how to play, and it was our way of being close. Once he and I were on the golf course, I knew I would be spending several hours alone with him. Those were important occasions.
After my accident, my grief about golf was so painful that I couldn’t drive past a course without feeling tearful. So when you and your dad invited me, I felt a little uncomfortable. But mostly, I was eager to see you and your dad play.
When you and your dad and I got on the course, I was relieved that I was able to navigate the turf in my wheelchair. Then I experienced all over again the beauty of that environment. I had forgotten how wonderful a golf course smells and the magnificence of the manicured lawns, dotted with sand traps, that seem to go on forever.
I saw you put the ball down and take a swing. Your form was beautiful. You connected with the ball. I can't ever remember feeling such pride and gratitude. I was almost giddy with joy as we made our way down the fairway.
And then I began to think. I thought about how much I would love to be able to swing a club myself and feel the grass under my feet. Instantly I was overcome with pain. If I had been alone, I would have wept. I remembered how a golf club used to feel in my hand. For the first time in years, I allowed myself to wish for something I could not have.
A few minutes later, as I noticed you were taking a golf club out of your bag, I reminded myself where I was. Again I took in the grandeur, watched you hit the ball, and felt great joy. You lofted the ball about twenty yards and all three of us applauded your accomplishment.
Once again, I felt joyous and exhilarated. So I began thinking about whether or not we could adapt a golf club to my hand . . . and maybe I could swing from my wheelchair . . . and maybe. . .
And then I realized that whatever we did, it wouldn't feel like it did before. It would probably feel clumsy and not much fun. More sadness and more grief.
Then your little voice snapped me out of my painful reverie. I heard you say to your father, "Great shot, Dad!" Again I felt joy and gratitude as I took in all that was around me.
Sam, when I lived in the present moment with you, noticing what was happening in that moment, I felt great joy. When my mind went to the past and what I had lost, I felt pain. When my mind went to the future and what I longed for, I felt pain then too.
So many of us grown-ups suffer because we are trying to live the life we once had or the life we wish for. You reminded me that day that life is much sweeter when we live the life we have.
Reprinted with permission of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., from LETTERS TO SAM by Daniel Gottlieb http://www.emptynestmag.com/spring2011/spring2011generations.shtml