My husband stopped in our hometown today in Indiana for a few days to visit his mom. She’s 86 and still hard at work running their family business, a roller skating rink. My husband and his 11 brothers and sisters grew up skating and working ‘the rink’ (DJs, skate guards, ticket takers, snack bar, skate rentals, coaches, instructors, etc.). Their childhood was quite different from the one our three children in southern California experienced with soccer, dance, summer camps, family vacations, and lots of time traveling and hanging out. In fact, it was quite different than the one I experienced as a child on the other side of that town in Indiana, with two sisters, dance, girl scouts, camp, summer jobs, etc.
There is something interesting in the way my mother-in-law approaches life and I am guessing she may have had an element of that already when my husband was a child. That something is a sense of contentment. She isn’t someone who strives to have something ‘else’, for things to ‘change’ or for that matter for things to ’stay the same’. She seems rather satisfied, happy if you will, for things to be just as they are. In many ways, my husband is just the same – although he loves the challenge of building things from ideas, he’s always had a streak of contentment present from the day I met him 37 years ago.
I am sure my mother-in-law feels sad, I am even guessing angry at times (although I’ve never seen that) in the day-to-day struggles of life – whether it’s an arthritic knee or a dissatisfied offspring – but underlying that is a sense of contentment for life. She has a sort of joy about her lot in life, a lot that includes the loss of her lifelong partner, the loss of a child, and the ups and downs of business ownership.
How does such contentment arise? I’m pretty sure that it comes from letting go of wanting things to stay the same or wishing things would be different. In the acceptance of things as they are, and in living very presently with things as they arise, a contentment takes shape.
She never fails to rise in time to get to the roller rink by early morning and to work a full day before opening the rink to the public at night. On evenings they hold ‘all night skates’ you can be sure she will be taking tickets at the door. She’s experienced times of war (WWII, Korea War), financial strife, racial prejudices, the hippie era (a time my husband and I couldn’t enter the rink because his hair was too long and I was braless). These experiences surely helped get her to where she is today – a wise woman of loving- kindness who exemplifies the American value of hard work and decent living.
I’ve seen her wisdom emerge as she has aged and I have seen my husband reflect her kindness in their relationship. He calls her often, enjoys hearing about her day, and just likes to ‘be near her’ via phone or in person. As a mom of our three children (2 boys and a girl), I love the thought that they might follow in their Dad’s footsteps and I in hers – to embody contentment in the later stage of life.