A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
THE PERSPECTIVE OF EXPERIENCE
It was late - well past midnight - and to tell you the truth, the beautiful brunette whose head was resting on my shoulder had overindulged. So I took advantage of the opportunity to do what any man would do in that situation.
I burped her.
Hey, she was only a few weeks old at the time.
We were sitting there in the recliner, patting and rocking, and one of us was drifting off to sleep when all of a sudden my granddaughter Becky started talking to me.
At least, it seemed like she was talking: "So, is this really as good as it gets?"
I must have looked startled, because she smiled at me. Either that, or she had gas.
"A little while ago," she explained patiently, "Anita came downstairs andů"
"Grammy," I corrected. Talking baby or not, there was no need to be disrespectful.
"Whatever," she continued. "Grammy came downstairs and said, 'Are you OK?' and you said, 'Are you kidding? This is as good as it gets!' And I want to know if that's really true?"
I wasn't exactly sure what she wanted to know. So I asked her to elaborate.
"I guess I'm kind of wondering about life," Becky said. "I mean, if you and I sitting here and rocking and patting and burping is as good as it gets, then the way I see it, I've already peaked and it's all downhill from here on out. Or am I missing something?"
It seemed strange to wax philosophical with someone who, just days earlier, looked for all the world like a melon in my daughter-in-law's stomach. But I plunged ahead.
"Well, yes, you ARE missing something," I said. "In fact, you're missing a lot. Of life, that is. You can't possibly appreciate what a great moment this is without having first experienced thousands of other moments leading up to this one."
"You mean all of those other moments were even less exciting than this one?" She was as incredulous as one who had just been through the miracle of birth could be.
"Not necessarily. But collectively, they imbue each succeeding moment with meaning."
"You want to run that past me again? And remember - you're talking to someone whose idea of a meaningful moment is one in which the stomach is full and the diaper isn't."
"OK, it's like this," I explained. "At its root, life is a series ofexperiences, both good and bad. Every new experience is understood within the context of our previous experiences. It's sort of like baggage we each carry with us from experience to experience, and it influences our perception of the world around us - for good or ill. That's how two people can share the same experience and respond to it differently. It's a matter of perspective, based on cumulative living.
"Therefore," I continued, "what we're doing together tonight means something completely different to each of us even though we're sharing it. It can't possibly mean the same thing to you as it does to me because you haven't been through what I've been through to get to this point. But in 46 years or so, when you're rocking your own grandchild to sleep, you'll understand how something as simple as this can be so powerful - and so fulfilling."
I looked down at the infant in my arms. She was sleeping the sweet sleep of the innocent.
"Joe?" Anita called from upstairs. "Are you sure you guys are OK down there?"
I looked at my granddaughter. "Are you kidding?" I asked. "This is as good as it gets!"
And this time, I'm almost sure Becky smiled.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.