How do you want to show up?
It was May of 2000 and my parents had come to Boston for my graduation. I wanted to show them everything there was to see. I’d prepared a ten page long itinerary, laid out in half-hour increments.
We were on day four of my patriot, sightseeing marathon, racing down Newbury Street past all the chic shops and trendy cafes, when my dad said, “Can’t we just stop and have an iced tea?”
It was a rare perfect day in New England, mid 70s with a light breeze, the sunlight broken up periodically by a passing cloud. The patio, defined by flowering shrubs, was inviting with its bistro tables under their deep red umbrellas. Even the birds seemed to be celebrating as they hopped about near the bushes picking up crumbs.
But we had to catch the next ferry, otherwise we wouldn’t see the islands. They had to see the islands, they had to get out on the ocean, they had to see the city skyline from the harbor. “We can’t stop Dad, there’s no other ferry today. We have to get this one.” I said.
He sighed, looked longingly at the tables as we passed by, and marched forward. In the end, we missed the ferry anyway. We missed the islands, we missed the views, and we missed the ocean spray. None of that matters to me now. The thing I regret most is that I missed connecting with my dad.
It was a chance to listen, it was a chance to acknowledge what was important to him, it was a chance to hang out and just be with him. And I threw it away for the checklist I thought was more important. My dad’s gone now — I’ll never again have the chance to sit on Newbury Street and have an iced tea with him. But the lesson lives in me forever.
Last summer, some dear friends of mine (a husband and wife) from the U.K. were passing through. I’d been looking forward to their visit for months and planned a day of sightseeing… no fixed itinerary this time, just a general plan… and it all went accordingly. We had a lovely day wandering the streets of Boston and getting in the highlights.
Later that week my husband and I met them for dinner in one of Boston’s suburbs. I picked a somewhat fancy restaurant with interesting fusion food and it didn’t disappoint. We ate, we drank, we chatted, we laughed. Then after dinner we walked to the park across the street.
We'd been standing around talking near some park benches for an hour, when one of our friends said, “Shall we find a coffee?”
The park was nothing special, we hadn’t even made into the park really; we were on the sidewalk, just ten feet from the road, under the cutting yellow light of the street lamps. The traffic wasn’t quite constant at that hour, but the background roar of engines would interrupt our conversation now and then. The two park benches had sagging planks and chipped brown paint. There was a pink dot of 100-day old chewing gum stuck on one of the arms.
I barely noticed any of it though, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much and my chest held a warm glow. Everyone’s eyes sparkled and we all leaned in close to make sure we didn’t miss a word. Now and then there was a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“Yeah, coffee sounds great.” I said. We headed back to the restaurant where we’d had dinner, ordered coffees to go, then returned to our station on the sidewalk. We were there another couple of hours before we realized it was getting really late.
“Thanks for showing us this smashing sidewalk. Maybe next time we can find an alley.” Our friend said. We all burst out laughing... but his point hit home. I don’t actually have super vivid memories of our sightseeing, or our dinner, just a few moments here and there have stuck. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the beautiful feeling of simply being with our friends, standing under the street lamp, not wanting the evening to end.
Because it’s never actually about where we go, how far afield we venture, or what we see… it’s always about what we carry inside of us, and how we show up that matters. You can go to the most exotic place in the world and never actually be there because your spirit is elsewhere. Or, you can go to your local park and make memories to last a lifetime… the choice is always yours.