What Is Important and What Is Not

Written by  //  February 15, 2011  //  THOUGHTS  //  No comments


When I was five-years-old or so, I had a very memorable and profound experience, which I’m sure I did not fully appreciate at the time, but which, as an adult, has caused me to pause and contemplate our capacity, as humans, to determine what really is important and what is not.

 At that time, an older woman lived in the house directly behind my family’s and directly across the street from her lived another little boy with whom I went to school. At some point, this older woman contacted the both of us and made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. If we were to work together to dust her home then, when we had finished, she would give us both a yummy treat.

 Five-year-olds have a hard time resisting yummy treats, so the deal was struck!

 Now, I’m certain that this woman could have dusted her own home perfectly well. However, I’m also certain that she, being one of those elderly neighborhood ladies, was less interested in having the dusting done than in having us both over to keep her company, even if just for a little while. And so, my friend and I arrived at the appointed time and set about dusting the home.

She spoke with us and asked us about ourselves and such while we worked. But, while my friend and I politely answered her questions, I’m sure that, at that time, the only thing that was going through our brains was “yummy treat, yummy treat, yummy treat.” In fact, I even remember being so focused on the promised-refreshments that I wasn’t even doing a respectable job of dusting. Mostly what was being accomplished was a sort of swirling effect with the dust on the table-top. I wonder if she noticed… or cared.  =]

 Well, this was all fine and good, and while I’m sure we had only been dusting for two or three minutes, my friend and I were good and ready to be done with all of this senseless labor and menial chit-chat.

 And then a miracle happened!

 The phone rang. The woman was unexpectedly called away for some urgent errand and explained that she was going to leave us there alone to finish up. When were we done, we would find our payment on the kitchen counter.

 Well, I don’t have to tell you that, as soon as that front door shut, my friend and I both decided that the dusting was, quite naturally, all finished.

 We quickly made our way to the kitchen where we found a most delightful surprise: hot-fudge brownies with chocolate sauce, which we immediately inhaled. Five-year-olds don’t know how to properly appreciate such fine and delectable victuals.

 Quite satisfied and, I’m sure, generously covered in chocolate sauce, we decided to explore the home. Of course, in our minds at that time, this old woman was most certainly loaded down with chocolate treats, stashed here and there throughout the entire home. We merely needed to discover them, at which point we could shamelessly gorge ourselves silly.

 So, we set about our task and began to explore the home thoroughly. I have a faint memory of discovering some baking cocoa in her cupboard, but my friend seemed to know that wasn’t what we were looking for. Having little success inside, we opened the door leading into her garage, where I was particularly delighted to see a giant chest freezer.

 Now, at this point in the story, it would be helpful to know that there was another neighbor lady with whom I had spent some time, and she happened to freely order from the Schwann’s man (which, by the way, is essentially the grown-up version of an ice-cream truck). This other neighbor lady kept her chest freezer well stocked with orange Flinstone push-up popsicles, which I had been given access to now and then. So, in my little mind at that age, all chest freezers just had to be filled to the brim with orange Flinstone push-up popsicles. I guess you could say that I had been heavily conditioned into thinking this and it’s no surprise since sugar is a fairly potent stimulus.

 So, when I saw that chest freezer in this other woman’s garage, I was convinced that my friend and I had hit the jackpot!

 Not so. When we finally managed to lift the ginourmous lid, what we found was truly disappointing: the chest freezer was completely empty!

 We were crestfallen and I’m sure we felt as though someone had played a dirty trick on us.

  But wait! What’s that at the bottom of the freezer?!

 Sure enough, the freezer was NOT empty, but contained a single piece of individually wrapped, salt-water taffy –lime-green!

 My friend and I were ecstatic!

 However, as I’m sure you know, chest freezers are about 3 ½ feet deep and five-year-old arms are only about 1 ½ feet long, so we had a problem.

 My friend nominated me to go ahead and climb on in, which I was not opposed to given the nature of our find. This was an invaluable opportunity for free sugar!

 So, I set about climbing up and in to the chest freezer and was doing quite well, I might add, when the two of us heard the most alarming sound for two five-year-olds who are up to no good – my mother’s voice…

 She was calling me for dinner –I was late and everyone was waiting for me- and we could tell that she was right outside of the door leading into the garage from the side-yard. To this day, I cannot figure out how she knew we were in there. Was she on her way around the house when she heard our voices? Or is this one of those supernatural mom-moments, when they simply know what we are up to??

 I’m still not sure.

 In any case, I jumped down from the freezer, we slammed the lid, and ran out to meet my mother before she could see what we were up to.

  Now, here’s the unexpected twist to the story, which is what has caused me to wonder if we, even as adults, can appropriately determine what is, in fact, important in life and what is truly meaningless: dinner that night, at my house, was root-beer floats…!

 Now, this was not an uncommon occurrence in my home. Typically, during the summer, when my mom was not up to the task of cooking dinner for 10-12 people (I’m the youngest of 10 kids), dad would go out and buy root-beer, ice-cream, and cantaloupe. The root-beer and ice-cream could, of course, be made into floats and, for a “more healthy” option, the cantaloupe was sliced in half and gutted to make melon-bowls for the ice-cream. I think the latter option was to make my parents feel less guilty about the whole affair.

 Well, since mom strangely didn’t have any questions about why we might have been in this old lady’s garage, I went home and enjoyed dinner with my family, completely scott-free. And, boy, was it delicious!

  In any case, and I’m sure you’ve put this together by now, the point is: how often in life do we fix our attention so desperately on the most meaningless endeavors?! I’ll remind you that, in the midst of our great-salt-water-taffy-caper, my friend and I had totally forgotten about the delicious hot-fudge brownie that we had already enjoyed. The phrase ‘taken for granted’ doesn’t even come close to describing the appreciation we were able to show for the yummy treat and for the lady who had so magnanimously treated us to it. And, if that wasn’t enough, here we were, so focused on a mere trifle of sugar that I was essentially missing out on a dinner from either of our wildest fantasies.


 Appreciate what you have been given. Appreciate the rewards of hard work (or “hard work,” as it were) and don’t try to cheat or steal, because you’ll remember it 20 years later and feel guilty. Appreciate those things which have not yet been given, but that come to those who wait. And, most of all, stop spending so much time pursuing that which has no value. I must admit, despite my lusting for it, at that age I didn’t even like salt-water taffy…

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