|Denver Botanic Gardens' Pond of Lily Pads|
Happy Fall, Y'all! This morning, the first day of autumn, I am sitting in my daughter's apartment in downtown Lakewood, eating a fresh nectarine from the Farmers' Market, pondering on my great fortune of good friends and precious family. This weekend was the First Annual Girly Getaway with my college roommates. Thirty years ago, the three amigas were college roommates at Brigham Young University, single girls who loved words, books, and conversations. Now we are married mothers of teens and young adults, and we still love reading and talking.
For our little reunion, we chose Denver as our destination city. It was perfect. The flooding rains had subsided, the sun was shining, and the days were warm enough to enjoy being outdoors, but cool enough to wear a light sweater or jacket; simply perfect.
We had a little bucket list of places to go and things to do while we were together, and we merrily checked items off as our time together passed. We rented the basement of a young couple in the Cheeseman Park and the Country Club. We had two rooms and our own sitting area and bathroom. It was just the place for our needs.
As we ventured out into the great city of Denver, we toured the Molly Brown House and the Denver Art Museum. We ate sumptuous meals at Little India and Snooze. The breakfast at Snooze was worth the wait! We went BEFORE the weekend to avoid the reported two hour wait. Thirty minutes wasn't bad at all. We indulged in Mexican food at Qdoba, and cupcakes from Gigi's.
And for future reference, Le Bakery Sensual doesn't involve as many of the senses as one might think. Perhaps if they had named their business the EROTIC Bakery, I could have saved myself a little embarrassment. The boys who worked their seemed to enjoy our pink-cheeked presence. I'm sure my mouth was agape as I peered into the refrigerated glass display case. We thanked them for their time, and scurried off to rejoin Cindy. She just shook her head.
"You seriously didn't know what you would find at the SENSUAL bakery?" Some of us are still pretty naïve.
Saturday morning, we celebrated the last day of summer at the Denver Farmers' Market. We breakfasted on Pupusas (a South American dish), tamales, and samples of hummus, pretzels and dips, and fresh slices of peaches, melons, and apples.
That afternoon found us at the Denver Botanic Gardens. I was in a photographic paradise. Our eyes feasted on all of the lush vegetation. The vast variety of lily pads blew my mind. The Japanese Tea Garden invoked reverence; the Bonsai trees represented elegance; the blooms and greenery delighted the senses. There were seating areas throughout the park for us to rest our age-weary backs.
One of us is an expert conversation starter. She has the ability to get people to open up, explore their thoughts, and share them. Whenever I am with her, I have to really focus on trying to find a way to get HER to share. If I don't, she will cleverly steer the conversation so everyone else is talking while she does the listening.
In a classic moment for the three of us, we found ourselves sitting at a wrought-iron table in the shade of a mighty oak tree. We watched a chubby squirrel scamper along swaying branches and across the grounds. There was a slight lull in the conversation when my dear friend began, "So...what would you say is the thing that gives...your life...meaning?"
Even if this is something on which you ponder often, verbalizing an answer to a question like that is not easy. Committing to an answer that will be heard by others is different than mulling optional responses inside your head.
My mind began to race...not in an anxiety-fueled way, but in an earnest search for my answer. Having been a teacher all of my adult life, first as a swimming instructor and then an elementary teacher, I know that for me, the greatest experiences in my life have come from sharing information with others...talking and listening, teaching and learning. As a wife and mother, understanding and being understood are essential to maintaining those precious relationships with my husband and children. Having ties to the lives of those around me: my students, my friends, and my family, has given my life purpose. My response came rather quickly once I gathered my thoughts.
"Connections with others give my life meaning. My husband calls me the Great Communicator. If I am not speaking, I am writing. Speaking, writing, texting, blogging, calling, Facebooking...I am continuously making connections with the people I love. Connecting with others, and being of service are my two big things. They are what give my life meaning."
While this conversation was taking place, and during our whole weekend together, I felt so relaxed and
comfortable. These two have always accepted me whole-heartedly as I am, full of faults and folly. They are my betters in intelligence, vocabulary, and eloquence, but they have always made me feel like my thoughts mattered, like I belonged. You've probably heard the quote by Carl Buechner: "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel." I actually had to revisit this conversation with them the next day, to recall particulars, but I will never forget the sweet, peaceful feeling that washed over me while we were sitting in the shade, sharing our thoughts and our feelings. They love me without condition. I can say what is in my heart, and know that they will help me sift through my words to find what it is I am trying to convey.
Cindy gazed out at the picturesque scenery and tipped her head slightly in thought. She told us for her, first and foremost, her family, and her faith, had always given her life meaning, and throughout her life, her underlying purpose has been her love of learning. She reads voraciously, as though her very life depends on it. She reads everything, even titles she initially finds boring, if she thinks she can learn from the contents of the book. One of her recent conquests was a book about physics. Even though it wasn't easy to read, and it wasn't as enjoyable as her favorite fictional novels, she delighted in understanding the concepts that were presented. No one appreciates learning as much as Cindy.
As our sweet friend was digesting our comments, she began to change topics, so I stopped her. "Not so fast," I stopped her. "Now you have to tell us what gives your life meaning."
She laughed as the filtered sunlight played across her upturned face. "I knew it was going to be my turn, but I wasn't quite sure how to answer. I just don't KNOW..." Then her demeanor became serious. She shared with us her concerns about her jobs as a mother and professor changing as she approaches retirement. She has always seen her purpose as equating with her jobs: mother and teacher. "I can see [my husband] and I going to farmers' markets, and buying sticky buns. We will be happy, but will that be enough? I am confident I can PLEASE myself, but how do I become truly and deeply HAPPY in retirement without my regular work of mothering and teaching?"
After a lengthy discussion that made the time pass much too quickly, we concluded that as long as each life has PURPOSE, it has meaning. It is important not to confuse our JOBS with our PURPOSE. We have to have a mission statement for our lives that becomes our purpose. We can't limit the meaning of our lives to our roles, because as relationships change, as physical limitations present themselves, our meaning would be reduced. Having a purpose is a mindset; it doesn't change when our memory isn't as crisp, or the body becomes less able.
Making connections, being of service, learning as much as we can...these things will give our lives purpose, and having a purpose will fill our lives with happiness. I don't think these girls will have any problems of living "purpose-driven" lives; their natural responses to life and the people they meet along their paths are compassion and love. I consider having their friendship as one of my choicest blessings.
Although our children are growing and moving away from home, we will always be mothers. Even though our jobs will one day become memories of the past, we will always be of service. It is not the titles of our roles or our job descriptions that make us who we are. It is the intangible concepts of our spirits and our minds and our hearts that will inspire us to be more, learn more, love more. When we are old(er) and grey(er), living our lives in bodies not as fit and healthy as we may wish, it will not be our titles that define us; it will be our sense of duty and charity that will drive us to be our best selves.