Maybe it was my birthday looming next week. It’s not an ends-in-zero milestone, but proof of another year gone by nonetheless. Maybe it was the prospect of booting my firstborn out the door to college next fall. More likely it was the view.
At 3:20 p.m. Saturday, I looked straight up. Ordinarily I would have been raking. I would have looked up to see the overhanging branches of giant cedars that litter my yard every October.
Saturday, I looked up and saw the red-orange underpinnings of the Golden Gate Bridge. I checked my watch as our San Francisco Bay tourist cruise boat passed under the postcard-perfect landmark. I wanted to know the exact time of an experience I’ll never forget.
We were in the bay area to look at schools for my high school senior. We were out on the bay after our University of San Francisco visit because, well, I couldn’t resist.
How many times in life will I be that close to Alcatraz with my three kids in tow? What responsible and tedious thing would I have done with the boat-tour money had I kept the cash in my wallet? When will I spend another balmy, eucalyptus-scented afternoon rolling on steely-gray waves, reveling in the beauty of the city by the bay?
At my age, a birthday is an unwelcome guest. But it does bring a midlife gift, a reminder that can’t be wrapped in bright tissue paper and stuffed in a cute Hallmark bag. As you rack up years, you begin to learn it: Grab every unforgettable moment.
Times that stick with us unfold wonderfully by accident earlier in life, or so it seems to me. Now I am much more aware of making life happen. I am conscious now of memories I want to make.
We have to rake sometime. But if I had spent every weekend raking this fall, I wouldn’t have been out on that bay Saturday. I wouldn’t have been at the Big Four Ice Caves with my toddler in a backpack a few weeks back. I would instead have been facing down a mountain of laundry.
At 3:21 p.m. Saturday, after marking my time under the bridge, I thought of a co-worker back home. He had unexpectedly acquired tickets to Saturday’s Mariners game. Before I left for California, he had been struggling with a choice not unlike my cruise-or-keep-the-cash quandary. Sell the tickets or go to the game?
I had been giving him my you-never-know speech. It goes like this:
On our last camping trip to the Grand Tetons before my husband’s death, he booked a Snake River raft trip we couldn’t afford. He also took us on a horseback ride that included a Wyoming chuck-wagon dinner complete with cowboy poetry. I was mad at him, worried about back-to-school expenses and I don’t recall what else.
He was smarter than I was about chances you never get again. I’m learning.
That co-worker, by the way, went to the Mariners game. He’ll never miss the money he could have made scalping windfall tickets.
Don’t be too envious of us. Yes, we took a golden cruise. Yes, the vistas were spectacular. Yes, two universities rolled out red carpets. Twice, my entire family was treated to lunch.
Right after my divine moment on the bay, however, the boat’s youngest passenger, my almost 2-year-old, began looking a little green. Just before we docked, the little guy lost his university lunch.
I won’t forget that, either.