A few months back this older lady shared her story with me. I’m not sure why it comes to mind now, perhaps because of the coronavirus outbreak, maybe because I just had a phone conversation with my mother. I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Here’s her story:
On my granddaughter’s 21st birthday, I sat with her and her expired driver’s license on a hard wooden bench at the DMV in downtown Boston, shifting around to give my bones a rest from time to time. The PA system blasted out numbers —“B92,” “I209”— to summon ticket holders to the desk to take an eye test or renew a registration. I felt as though we were at a bingo game, waiting for the winning number to be called so we could leap up and collect the prize.
And on that bench, I had a revelation: The seemingly mundane events I’ve shared with my granddaughter were both my adventures and my rewards for just being at the DMV on Blackstone Street.
I grew up in a suburb of Boston in a house that my immigrant parents bought as the key to a new life for themselves and their four children. A vacation for us was a bus trip to Central Square, past the Salvation Army band playing “Amazing Grace” on the corner, then down into the subway for a day trip to Boston Common. Even better—a train ride to Carson Beach, shopping bags filled with our version of gourmet delicacies like hard-boiled eggs, wine-colored beets, and juicy purple plums, followed by the muddy sand sucking at our toes.
I looked forward to these small outings and never developed a flair for the dramatic vacation. It sounds boring, to seek out the simpler pleasures, but it was not. I have since traveled to tropical islands, to Europe, and to many of America’s cities. Those trips were refreshing and provided fuel for a retake on life, but they were breaks. I prefer the mainstream of the ordinary.
I like the day trips and the routines of showing up to be the chauffeur for my granddaughter. They foster conversations that make me feel like a mentor. I drive. I make snacks. I offer small excursions. On one trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, we wandered under the Chihuly glass ceiling, mesmerized by the audacious colors while looking up until our necks cramped and talking about artists’ lives. On another, we were drawn into the musical instrument room like children following the Pied Piper, hypnotized by the sound of a Mozart sonata played on an antique harpsichord. That day we discussed Mozart’s genius. At a Red Sox night game at Fenway Park, lit up by a thousand bulbs, we sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” ate Fenway Franks with mustard squeezing out of the buns, and talked about the rules of the game.
But the best of times were in the car or the kitchen. We commiserated about a homework assignment, playing the roles of two philosophers discussing the Enlightenment. We had our private book club, reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and typing e-mails in UPPER CASE to mimic the voice of the main character. When Jen was filling out the driver’s license renewal forms, we talked about organ donors and voter registration.
If I added up all of these irreplaceable, ordinary moments, they would far exceed the time it would take to travel around the world. That makes me think I should be more adventurous and perhaps have a bucket list of experiences, like skydiving or climbing Mount Everest. But that is not who I am. I don’t need those adventures. In the end, it turns out that just showing up, being with love one’s is enough for me.