My wife just built a pergola in our yard. Mind you, a pergola is a thing I never knew existed until it was pointed out to me by my darling. If I had been asked, “What do you think of her pergola?” I might have thought, “Well, it certainly fills out that dress nicely,” or perhaps, “I remember that from pathology. It incubates for four weeks, causes fever and weeping skin sores, and is common in the Pacific islands.”
Turns out it's that structure you see in elegant yards or in the sacred pages of our Dixie Holy Book, Southern Living. A pergola is the wooden-framed structure that ladies of taste have in their yards, on which assorted vines grow for shade, and beneath which said ladies and their charming children have cakes and lemonade in oppressive summer heat. Incidentally, I have explained to my wife that Southern Living is merely house porn — images of things that one desires but that do not actually appear in reality and are not actually available to mere mortals. I now stand corrected, though our pergola may have wild animal carcasses dragged beneath it, unlike those in Southern Living.
Our pergola is almost finished. Thanks to the skill and vision of my Jan (who probably should have been an engineer), the strength and agility of my children, and the tools and experience of my various in-laws, it has risen from the ground behind our house. Its posts are set in concrete, its beams securely nailed. Its tall posts and well-measured intervals made me ask Jan if it were aligned with the summer and winter solstice and if we'd be dancing naked beneath it. She smiled, and said, “Maybe!”
Pergola entered my vocabulary because it was something my wife desired, something of interest to her. I've learned other things from that girl. I've learned about leadership skills, which she used to teach to college students and still teaches to our church youth. I've learned about volunteerism and historical romance. About Japanese words and her love of Ireland, land of her ancestors.
But she isn't my only teacher, not at all. From my children I learned many things as well. If not for my son Seth, I wouldn't have my deep love of the bagpipe. Many years ago, when he was small, we heard the band Albannach play in concert. They are a group of Scots who play pipes and drums the way Ted Nugent plays the guitar. Watching their show, one understands why the English viewed Highland combat with a certain reluctance. But they inspired my son. And he has played the pipes better and better for years. It was also Seth who led us down the path of learning the ancient art of blacksmithing. A smithy sits in our yard, and we fire it up whenever we need to shape metal and feel the heat, see the sparks and get our iron on.
My daughter Elysa taught me the fine art of playing dolls, and endlessly teaches me about fashion and contemporary culture. She makes me dance in the dining room, and asks me questions about my past, and her mother's. She shows me how to make movies on an iPad and how to do all of the things on my computer I should understand but don't. She also teaches me to see inside the hearts of others, for she is a born healer, all compassion.
Elijah, my 13-year-old, forces me to learn. I am always behind his vocabulary and interests as he quizzes me on German words (I don't know any, I try to explain), relativity (zoology degree, not physics), Norse mythology, and ancient combat. (OK, I know a little about that.) But his passion for knowing forces me to read, to learn, and never to stop loving the act.
And my oldest, Sam, teaches me there is always a reason to laugh, always a new meme online that I need to see, always a new idea on BBC News or somewhere else that we need to discuss. He introduced me to the band Muse, and is my guide to the modern music scene. In fact, his enthusiasm for his favorite band led his mother and me to drive family and friends to see the band in Indianapolis in the summer of 2011.
What's my point here, you may be asking? Not to catalog my family's hobbies, certainly. My point is this: We physicians can be a focused bunch. We work, we study, we write or do research, we speak. For so long, we've listened to our own interests and followed our own requirements. We get lost in education, then in continuing education and in the vagaries of practice. So lost, in fact, that we lose touch with the interests and tendencies of the people we love. And we forget that love is more than an emotion. Love involves engagement in the lives of others, and sacrifice of some our time, some of ourselves, for their good.
If there's one thing I've learned as a husband and parent, and not always done well, it's that we have to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to the passions of the people we love. I could have devoted my entire life and all of my time to me. But what a loss that would have been. I have learned so much more by being led by my dear family! Led on walks, led to play Xbox, led to imagine, led to dance, led to build a coal smithy and to make things, led to play Airsoft, to listen to concerts, to read widely, and always to embrace life in its wonders.
In the process of following, of letting go of my own agenda, I was led deeper into the hearts of my wife and kids. I am safely ensconced there now, and their interests and joys have been welded to my own. I couldn't undo it if I wanted. But I don't.
Because in the process, we have had laughter and love, games and trips, learning and adventure. I have become so much more than a physician, so much wider in scope, wiser in life, richer in knowledge and skills.
And we have a pergola, for crying out loud! How cool is that? And I, for one, can't wait to sip lemonade beneath it.
Bagpipes and anvils and music from alt bands,
German and physics and myths out of Iceland,
Pergolas, dancing, and daughters with bling,
These are a few of my favorite things!
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