Why don’t we live now?

While in my early 20s, I inherited a gorgeous antique bedroom set from my grandmother. Purchased just after the Great War, the five walnut pieces were brown and heavy and ornate, adorned with flutes and scrolls and marquetry, laced with cubbies and hidden drawers.
As a child, when we visited, I slept in that high upper room where this wonderful furniture lived, and dreamed of knights and castles and falcons. A few years later, afraid of trashing the stuff while lugging it from apartment to apartment, and in need of a few hundred bucks, my young wife and I sold it all.

Last week, I heard a man on the radio speaking to husbands and fathers, pleading with them to stop “pouring every last drop of energy into being the big man, to building a business, or making money, or becoming important.” I could hear the emotion in his voice, the passion; focus on your children, he told us, your wife, your friends. And then he said something that made me stop what I was doing, sit back, and really think: “Why not live now, like you will hope you had lived?”

There, with just 11 words, the speaker took the present, the future, and the past, wrapped them all around my heart, and squeezed.

The first thing I thought about was how I’d bartered away all that classy old furniture just to buy groceries and gas. I squeezed my eyes shut and saw the old room in my grandparents’ grand home, and I remembered being small and the magic of summer afternoons spent with my imagination among all that dark wood. I never should have sold all that stuff, I thought; I’m sure all we did was pay bills with the money — and bills I still got.

And then I realized that I was the guy the man on the radio was talking to. Forget the furniture, the bills, he’d told me. Redeem the time: it’s the people, stupid.

It’s a good idea every once in a while to peer into your own rearview mirror — the one that looks back over your string of days — to see if the now that was is the now it could have been, the now that you had hoped for.

I thought of my son, now grown and married and living an hour away, and how he and I had spent an afternoon together last week, me holding a flashlight while he tinkered with the wiring on his houseboat. And how he told me stories of working as an engineer in the Gulf of Mexico; and how he and his wife were thinking of going on a mission trip to Russia to work with orphans.

And then I thought of my daughter, so far away at college, and how she had called me one recent night just to talk, and so I’d flopped on the couch and said things like “Oh, really” and “Hmm” and “No kidding?” and “How cool is that?” for an hour while she chatted on about this and that and the other thing as I drifted half off to sleep.

And then I thought of my wife, the only real girlfriend I’d ever had, and how we’d managed to stay in love for three decades while throwing our hearts into our kids, and how last Saturday night we slow-danced in the kitchen to some sentimental Dolly Parton song on the radio while the eggplant parmesan overcooked in the oven.

Somewhere, that old furniture set is warming up someone else’s guest room, triggering little imaginations as tiny fingers trace the scrollwork and explore the drawers and cubbies. Perhaps the parents and grandparents are in the doorway, smiling, watching the children, seeing the wonderful now that is being lived just as it should be.

Life is all about people. Everything else is just stuff. I have no regrets.

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