For the third year in a row I have returned to our family farm in Iowa for the week of Thanksgiving. My grandmother of 99.9 years lives in town, at an assisted living center. Time with her is cherished, for while she will soon move into the start of a second century on this planet, we know intuitively that years past 100 are limited.
With each visit my mother and I engage my grandmother in story telling, recording each memory on our cell phones, camera, or audio recorder. She shares with us a blend of bitter, sweet, dismay, and wonder at all she has seen and experienced. In the century that has passed she has moved from moving between rented farm houses by means of horse and sled to the automobile, the first commercial airlines, jet engines, and Moon landings. She has seen communications evolve from installation of the first telephone lines to mobile phones, satellite, and the Internet.
Just yesterday afternoon, while decorating her apartment for Christmas I played a Putumayo album ‘Folk Playground’ which started with a fun version of ‘This Old Man’. My grandmother leaning just a bit forward on her walker, swung her hips left and right, tapped her feet, and rolled her shoulders to the lyrics and the beat. My mother quickly came ’round to my grandmother’s front and danced with her, both of them laughing.
The moment was just that, a few bars of a familiar song and a reminder of the countless thousands of evenings that my grandparents danced in Texas, Florida, and Arizona during their thirty years as Iowa Snowbirds. And then my grandmother asked, “Where is that music coming from?”
“From my little black box,” which is how she refers to my cell phone.
“Oh my,” shaking her head as she found her seat, “I just don’t understand how all of that works. All of that,” referring to phone calls, text messages, photographs and music, “in that little box?”
Once seated she concluded, “As I always say, what does the future hold? What … does … the future hold?”
She asks this with a certain degree of longing to know, and at the same time a need to let go. She seems content to know that it produced a song familiar to her, and in that moment she found joy. Moments are what matter most to her now, not the past nor the future. In some ways, she is living exactly how the wise have advised for millennia—in the moment.