May 25th, 2024


Take time to be wonderful

Garrison Keillor

By Garrison Keillor

Published April 15, 2024

Take time to be wonderful


Eight a.m. is a fine time to go out for a walk in New York City because you get caught up in the happiness of little kids dressed up for school, holding a parent's hand, jazzed by the hubbub of life around them, curious and eager, jabbering about everything they see on the way, completely in the moment.

Teenagers tend to be solemn, practicing their looks of angst and disdain, but the jubilation of little kids is inspiring. (It helps that I'm not responsible for any of them.)

I walk down Columbus Avenue to pick up a couple bagels and coffee (black, thank you) and that first happy impression of the day sticks with me no matter what.

I remember Estelle Shaver, my first-grade teacher, now consorting with archangels in Glory. I was shy, bookish, an observer, which she encouraged and which, as it turned out, saved me from a career in politics or operating a Ponzi scheme or becoming a psychic with curative powers to prevent Parkinson's, pancreatitis, and panic attacks. I lacked the confidence to work the con.

Now I'm an old man, in no rush, keeping an eye out for curbs and crevices and treacherous slabs of sidewalk, hoping not to make a spectacle of myself, knowing that in New York I am surrounded by writers, real or imagined, who would find the crash of a tall elderly author rather satisfying.

Once I was swift afoot and long astride, and now I amble along, accepting distractions, my barber Tommy, a sculptor of hair, at work in his shop, and the newsstand, a historic relic, in the Online Age, and the security woman in her yellow vest at the schoolyard gate, and these beautiful children, apartment kids growing up on crowded streets, learning social skills.

I had the Mississippi River and woods to go wander off alone in and so I picked up a pencil and a Roy Rogers tablet and wrote, as I am doing now.

School didn't really work for me. I learned out in the real world. I learned about economics years ago when I took three relatives to Paris and we stayed in a sweet little hotel near Notre- Dame, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Panthéon, and ate well and walked the narrow streets and sat in cafés and reminisced about our childhood along the Mississippi River, and the cost of it all was less than what I'd need to renovate our kitchen, which didn't need renovation.

So to my way of thinking, it was a free trip. Last year I pledged to my church an amount less than what I'd pay for full-time care if my minor cerebral incident that caused a minute of aphasia had been a major one instead and put me in a wheelchair. Thank you, Lord, and here is the refund.

I learn about unfairness whenever I consider that I have had 64 years more than my cousin Roger who, a week before high school graduation, went swimming with a girl he had a crush on and dove from a boat though he couldn't swim a stroke, trying to impress her, and drowned. He was a hero of mine and from his senseless death I learned that injustice is everywhere.

Now I'm old, I wince when the flight attendant refers to our "final destination" or someone asks, "What was your last book about?" and I still sometimes think of Roger standing in the stern of the boat, bending forward, and I try to stop him.

It's the age of gratitude, 81. A motorcycle roars past and I remember my motorcycle ride on the winding roads of Patmos with my girlfriend hanging on to me, a nerdy writer suddenly become daredevil Evel Keillor.

I step into H&H Bagels and remember going into the Horn & Hardart Automat when I was eleven, on a trip from Minnesota, just me and my dad. It was, I can see now, the great privilege of my life.

Mother made him take me but he was good about it. We saw the wonders together, Grand Central, the Empire State, Miss Liberty. That trip shines forever in memory.

I want to tell the parents on Columbus Avenue, "Take that kid on a trip alone with you to the Grand Canyon or Greenland or some other stunning spot; the privilege will see that kid through many hard times."

Bestow yourself. Eleven is an age of wonderment. Take time to be wonderful.


Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality. His latest book is "The Lake Wobegon Virus: A Novel". Buy it at a 33% discount! by clicking here. Sales help fund JWR.