Yesterday, I was on the phone talking to Nancy Dowd at the New Jersey State Library about the text message pilot program that I am involved in at my library system. We were winding down talking about the program when she told me about what the State Library is doing for National Write Your Own Book Month: they looking to collect 50,000 words of wisdom through messages that are 140 characters are less. After encouraging me to contribute to the challenge, we exchanged Thanksgiving wishes and hung up. I sat at my desk in the work room for a long while, just staring at the notes from the call.
Of all the advice and words of wisdom I have been offered in my life, there really wasn’t anything that jumped out at me as something I would like to confer. It felt like I was sorting through dozens of fortune cookies, looking for the one little piece of insight that would make me or someone else go “A ha! I never thought/considered/pondered that before!” But nothing came to me last night, so I just let it go. But today, in the place that yields much insight these days (my car), my eyes welled up with tears as the realization came over me. It is the finest piece of advice I have ever been given, kept very close to my heart, rarely repeated till now. But, like all of the best advice, it should be shared with the world.
To understand, let me tell you a story.
The man pictured to the right is my great uncle Canning Kraft. He was the younger brother of my grandfather, part of a pair of twins. After his stint in the Army during World War II, he came back to New Jersey like many GIs to find work and start a family. I remember as a very small child visiting him at a John Wanamaker’s department store where he was a salesman in the house wares department. At the many holiday parties and events hosted at his house on Fairview Avenue, he was the embodiment of a social gentleman. A little hunched, he met you with a strong handshake, his jovial yet mashed “Lookin’goodoldfriendhowareyou?”, with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye. He’d be inquiring on subjects about your life at an ADD rate (the family suspected he was an undiagnosed case) while guiding you over to the food or seating or other family members before excusing himself off to top of a drink or say hello to someone. When he did settle down, the time would ebb away as you talked about anything and everything in the world. An excellent conversationalist and a good listener, he would go back and forth with you on any subject brought to the table. He was a role model to me for his thoughtfulness, his compassion, and his hospitality.
But while the picture above is at the prime of his life, the bulk of my memories are from his twilight years. He was diabetic and it had turned bad in his last October of his life. The doctors had amputated one of legs below the knee and were getting him healthy to take the other leg when he decided he was done with hospitals and doctors. He wanted to leave, to die in his own home with his wife and dog, and his family at his side. And so it was. In my mind, I can still see that last visit. I remember climbing the steps up to the painted wooden porch and passing through the front door. There was a hospital bed set up in the dining room, a dominating piece of furniture surrounded by the dark sideboards and medical equipment. Other family members were milling about with intent purpose; some were in the kitchen, making food; other were quietly chatting in the living room; and a few sat at the side of the bed and talked with my uncle. After a few family members finished their talks with him, I took a seat on the side of the bed and began our last visit.
It was a good talk where we told each other how much we meant to one another. It was the kind of talk that people everyday wish they had with their loved ones who pass away suddenly or leave their lives for reasons never known or explained. I held his still strong hand while we chatted; I think it was for my own comfort more than for his. Then, the time came where I had to go, knowing that this was the last time, the final moment, when there could be nothing more said. As I leaned in to give him a hug and say goodbye, he quietly spoke into my ear,
“Go with the moment.”
I nodded, pulling back, and left without speaking. There was no voice for me at that moment as I let the words sink in. I just got into my car and drove, crying so hard I had to stop a couple of times. A couple of days later, I got the call from my folks while I was down at college that he had passed.
Until this post, I had not mentioned what he said in that final parting to more than a handful of people. I’ve meditated on its meaning over the years and how it has been reflected in my life. I have taken it to mean that I should trust my instincts, take a worthwhile risk, and to embrace those changes that pour through our lives. It has lead me to great adventures (like a semester abroad in Australia) and some deep disappointments (a couple of devastating romantic heartbreaks), but it has always made me embrace the choices life has given me.
So, for you, Uncle Canning, I have taken your words of wisdom onto a greater audience.
For those of you with someone like my uncle in their lives, I encourage you to contribute their words of wisdom to this neat project. From the NJ State Library blog:
How to submit your H2H words of wisdom:
1. Text “H2H” to 51684, hit “space” and type your advice. Standard message charges apply. You’ll receive a message to let you know your submission has been accepted. We will keep you updated about the book but we won’t send more than 1 message per week and you can stop the messages anytime you want by replying “Stop”.
2. Tweet to: @h2hbook
We will include your initials or first name to your quote if you include it. All entries must be submitted no later than November 30.
No personal references
While we would love to use all quotes that are submitted, we will be editing the final product and reserve the right to reject submissions.
Questions? Nancy Dowd: firstname.lastname@example.org
And don’t let it stop with you. Share this with your friends and family. Leave them the words that you want them to remember you by and encourage them to do the same. Don’t let it stop with you. Let this be a great sharing of the simple wisdom of ages.