They were digging a grave at the cemetery near Pevee Road. I saw the crew as I drove by, three guys and a rig of some sort; probably a backhoe. In the blur of landscape outside my side window, I saw a man in coveralls raising up a spade.
It put me in mind of last week’s Thanksgiving meal and the conversation we had at our table. It was a mix of family and friends. I wanted something we could all talk about, something a little more creative than “What are you grateful for?” and a lot less risky than, “What did you think of the presidential election?”
I printed out a copy of The 36 Questions that Lead to Love. It’s a New York Times article about a New York Times Modern Love essay that, in turn, was about how the writer, Mandy Len Catron, and her date fell in love over the course of an evening answering questions developed by psychologist Arthur Aron.
One key to creating intimacy, Aron and his fellow researchers study found, was “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Hence, the 36 questions.
I put the first one to the table: “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
No one said Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Relieved and encouraged, I forged on.
“Would you like to be famous?” The table was split, 50/50.
“When did you last sing to yourself?” My guests, it turned out, were all secret lounge acts.
And then this one: “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”
My brother surprised me first.
“I’ve always wanted to see the Badlands,” he said.
My brother has spent his 55 years in Ohio and Florida. He hasn’t seen any more of the world than that. Something about him wanting to visit such a starkly beautiful and remote place told me a little something about him, about the landscapes that called to him.
In that moment, I yearned for him to go to South Dakota and see the Badlands.
Then my dad answered the question.
“I’ve always wanted to see Ireland,” he said. “It looks so green. And pictures of those small stone houses with the thatch roofs? It just looks like a lovely place.”
“I’d like to see Ireland, too,” my mom said when it was her turn. “And more of the United States. Certainly not Paris!” At this, she made a face.
Again, I was surprised. I wish I had known this, and many years earlier, too. We kids could have pooled our money and gifted my parents with a trip to Ireland years ago. Now, at 84, with a bum ankle and a reconstructed right hip joint, my father doesn’t have the stamina. My mother has constant back pain. She’d never manage the six-hour flight, even if we flew her first-class.
Why hadn’t they done these things? Time and money.
I looked at my parents, and quietly revised the question. They had the money. They had the time. What they lack now is the good health to enjoy them.
We don’t think we have enough money, yet somehow, most of us find a way to pay the rent and the Verizon Wireless bill. We don’t think we have enough time, and yet somehow the years accrue, and we’re 53, and hosting Thanksgiving, or 84, and reaching for another mincemeat cookie.
Now it was my 14-year-old niece’s turn.
“I want to adopt a blue roan mustang and tame her,” she said. We oldsters at the table smiled and chuckled. “You go right ahead and do that,” our humoring tone seemed to say.
But now, after seeing the gravediggers at the cemetery, I’m thinking, no, you go right ahead and do that! Don’t fret too much about the money. And choose to make the time.
“Most of us think about love as something that happens to us,” wrote Mandy Len Catron about the 36 questions. “But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action.” It takes making the choice to get to know someone, and let yourself be known.
Most of us think about life as something that happens to us. The gravediggers remind me to think otherwise.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter, @lima_eddings.