Few things make me happier than indulging in a deep philosophical discussion with one of my favorite philosophers about our favorite topic: Life.
My view is that of a woman with more years behind her than ahead. Henry’s view is that of a 7-year-old who is smart as a whip, wise beyond his years and wants to be taken seriously.
“Henry,” I said, “what will you do with your one sweet life?”
If the boy doesn’t know something (he knows plenty), he’s smart enough to ask you to explain it. He never stops asking questions. I hope he never will.
“What do you mean, Nana? Doesn’t life just happen to us?”
“Sure,” I said, “things happen. But life isn’t so much about what happens. It’s more about the choices we make – what we do with the things that happen.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“For example,” I said, “have you decided what you want to do for a job when you grow up?”
I’ve asked him that question so many times he probably thinks I want him to pay for my nursing home bills. But his answer keeps changing. Last week, he wanted to be a marine biologist and swim with dolphins. This week, he was taking a different path.
“Yes,” he said, “I want to own a restaurant. And also a farm to get food for the restaurant. Like, I’ll have chickens to lay eggs that I’ll serve for breakfast.”
“You’ll only do breakfast?”
“No, I’ll do lunch and dinner, too. And sushi. Every day.”
“Where will you get the fish for the sushi?”
“Well, Nana,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I’ll get it from the ocean, of course. The restaurant will be on the water. Maybe in Monterey. Or Hawaii.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s a big job. What will you do? Will you be the chef in the restaurant or the fisherman on the boat or the farmer who feeds the chickens?”
“I will be the boss,” he said firmly. “And I will hire people to do all the other jobs.”
“That sounds great,” I said. “Will you hire me?”
He looked at me to see if I was grinning. I was not.
“Nana,” he said, “I’m only 7. That could be a long time from now. Maybe 20 years. Do you think ... well ... do you really think you’ll still be alive?”
I laughed so hard I had a coughing fit.
“It’s not funny!” he said.
Henry is painfully aware that life, as we know it, does not last forever. He knows his mom’s father died of cancer. His dad’s grandma died, too, not long ago. And recently, he lost Oliver and Archie, a dachshund and yorkie that he had known all his life and loved like brothers.
“I don’t want you to die,” he said. “I want you here with me.”
I pulled him close and held him. He smelled like his mama.
“Where am I,” I said, “when you can’t see me?”
That’s the question I ask him and his cousins whenever we say goodbye. They know the answer. Henry touched his chest and said, “In my heart.”
“Remember that, OK?” I said.
He nodded, but looked away.
“Hen,” I said, “believe it or not, some people live to be a lot older than I am, even to 100 or more. I don’t know how long I’ll get to be here. But I promise you this: I will stick around as long as I can. I want to watch you and your cousins grow up. I want to dance at your wedding and kiss your babies’ toes and see how beautiful your mom is when she’s my age. I might even want to work in your restaurant. So, will you hire me, or not?”
He thought about it. “I don’t know, Nana. Twenty years is a long time. Even if you’re still alive, what could you do?”
I rubbed my aching knee.
“Well,” I said, “I won’t catch fish or feed chickens or bus dishes. I will be a greeter. You can prop me up at the door and when customers come in, I’ll say ‘Welcome to Henry’s Place! You’re in for a treat!’ ”
He laughed and said, “Deal!”
And we shook on it.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950, or visit sharonrandall.com.