To the editor of The Sun
Snoozing in my Chair
Remembering That First Kiss
Lost to the Clouds
"I'm Old," he said
My Visit with the Director of Lawrence Radiation Lab
Plodding Down the Path
Read To Me
Tax Time
On Being Fully Alive
If I Should Die Before I Wake
Theme Song Nostalgia
Fight or Flight or
Minor Island
Landings II and III
The Sun on Me in the Morning
Missing Pieces
Living Simply
I Had a Brother, Once
The Wild One
The Cost of Health Care
Popular Music
Sleeping Beauty
Full Moon
Are We Connected
Concert for George
Zoe Moon
An Opportunity to Feel
Over the River and Through the Woods
Saving Daylight
Garage Sale
Pushing On
My Little Town
The West Wing
Everything is Impermanent
Emotional Habits
My Shadow
The Power of Eyes
Being a Vegetarian
She Blushed
The Mouse in the Basement
Mind and Matter
Do You Love God
Writer's Lament
Releasing Dreams
Relating to Cats and
Free as a bird
Silk Scarf
Alice at 21
Alice Evelyn King Skiff
Cookies & Milk
Animals in Mountains


“When you get big,” my grandmother promised, “you can do that.” It was some sort of adventure that I wanted, or a toy that boys my age dreamed about but somehow never got. “When you get big,” she said, “you’ll understand these things.”

It might have been my grandfather’s pipe. I loved the smells that haunted their house, the pipe smoke and the cookies, and Granddad’s big leather chair. I wanted, and I waited, impatiently.

When I got big I smoked my own pipe, but I didn’t understand these things. I just did them because I could. Or rather, I did what I could. And I still wanted, and I still waited to get bigger when I could do everything I wanted.

The wanting never went away, and the understanding never came. There was a time when I had everything, but it still wasn’t enough. The yearning, the wanting, flowed under my surface like a dark stream seeking sunlight. Maybe it’s this. Maybe if I did this thing . . .

The trouble is, of course, we don’t live alone. Every thing I did affected someone else, and as I bounded on I trailed shards of expectations, of promises, of responsibilities, . . . of hearts, . . . of loves.

I don’t know just when it was that I stopped wanting. Maybe I never did stop altogether. Still, I don’t feel the yearning the way I used to. Maybe it’s a hormone thing—the young dream and yearn for whatever gets their attention, and eventually they don’t anymore, whether or not they got what they wanted (or thought they wanted). Our genes make sure we get the urge while we’re young and healthy and have the energy to go and do and conquer, and the genes don’t care what happens after that.

The interesting thing is that even though the young come to think they understand what’s going on, mostly they don’t, not really. It takes years of experiencing and laughing and crying and suffering to put it all together. It’s not enough to say, with Paul Simon (who was shy of thirty at the time), “I am a rock, I am an island . . . and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” A good insight, a glimpse of reality, that’s all—most folks don’t even recognize that the pain and crying come from inside; they think suffering is caused by others.

Even the yearning seems to happen to us, rather than welling up from inside. She loves me, she loves me not. I can’t help what I feel.

The whole trip is loaded with irony. We get used to the yearning and the dissatisfaction, and when it’s not there anymore we think something’s missing from our lives. When the noise in our head lets up, we think the music stopped. About the time we realize that we don’t have to keep paddling to stay afloat, we discover that our paddle is nothing but a stick, and all our effort was nothing but exercise, that the dark stream under our surface was carrying us along regardless of what we did. It’s only life, and we grow up and grow old no matter whether we understand or not.

Naturally, the young don’t want to hear that—which is yet another genetic imperative. We don’t know how many cultures—how many species, even—have become extinct because the young understood and simply stopped paddling. Money wouldn’t be made and bridges wouldn’t be built and children wouldn’t be born to make it all happen, generation after generation.

The odd thing is, sometimes there’s this vestigial thing, this nostalgia for passion. Of course it’s counterproductive. An eighty-year-old who yearns for anything other than inner peace is pitiable. He hasn’t the resources, physical or emotional, to do much about it. Understanding is the only substantial resource one has at that point. To feel something, and simply acknowledge the feeling without responding, is all there is to do.

That doesn’t mean that life is over. In fact, life without wanting leaves that much more time and emotional space for appreciating and for enjoying what there is. Many of us have a lot to be grateful for.

Waiting is hard when one is young. It gets easier. But maybe wanting never really disappears. If I’m lucky, it will become one more thing to simply observe, without yearning.


Donald Skiff, December 20, 2007

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