Build It And They Will Come
by Jamison Koehler on June 1, 2016
Mindfulness. It’s become quite the buzzword, but what does it mean? Jon Kabat-Zinn, teacher of mindfulness meditation and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, defines it as paying attention on purpose. It’s an effort to be ever-present with an experience in the moment.
When it comes to mindfulness in my own life, it’s my father who comes to mind as the defining influence. While as a poet and English professor he would have hated the word — he demanded precision in language and preferred verbs to nouns — he lived it to the fullest. He took joy in every task he undertook, whether he was planting a bush, carving a pumpkin or building a fire. He never viewed any chore, no matter how mundane, as a bother. It was all about the process, which may explain why he was still carving pumpkins at Halloween and running the sprinkler at the dead of night on our side lawn to create a skating rink even when his five children were grown and gone from the house.
He took his time with things, like selecting gifts. Sometimes he would visit a store two or three times to ruminate over a purchase. It drove my mother crazy. The year we spent in Germany while my father was an exchange professor at Freiburg University, it took him four months to decide on a car to buy. While my brother and I navigated the public transportation system to and from school every day, our father visited car dealers. His German was limited to auto-oriented vocabulary and the topic of cars dominated our dinnertime conversations.
All my life, I assumed my father had difficulty making decisions. Looking back on those four months he spent deciding which car to buy — he landed on a BMW — I realize now it wasn’t because he couldn’t decide. It was because he didn’t want to decide. Shopping for cars was a great joy in his life, so why rush the process? He was the least materialistic person I’ve ever known, but cars were his one bright and shiny indulgence. In fact, he visited our local Chevrolet dealership so often the owner paid his respects at the funeral home when he died. Yet in his lifetime, my father purchased only a handful of cars. So why shouldn’t he savor the pleasure each and every time?
He had no difficulty making up his mind when it counted. He was 35 when he met my mother, but he knew instantly she was the woman of his dreams; they were married within a year.
“Build it and they will come,” my brother said at our parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. He was referring to my father’s insistence, even past the age it was medically wise, on building a skating rink on our lawn, shoveling the frozen surface after each snowfall and setting the sprinkler to run at night when the temperature fell below freezing. My mother would lie awake wondering if she should check on him, worrying he had slipped and fallen and would freeze to death.
We believed at the time he was trying to recapture the magical rink of our childhood, with the ice-encrusted tree trunks lit by floodlights sparkling like crystals, our laughter clouding the air and our skates scraping the bumpy, imperfect surface. We thought it was an act of nostalgia. Looking back, I wonder if he was recapturing the magic not for us, but for himself, the way he would enjoy the order of his vegetable garden, or the crackle of the fire he built or the fresh scent of a well-cut lawn — mindful as ever of the wonder of the moment.
Reprinted from Grosse Pointe News