A quiet life among autumnal people

Gluttony and lust and pride start to fade late in life, leaving us thankful for simple blessings.

Published November 22, 2006 12:00PM (EST)

As you get older and you can afford to eat well, your metabolism shrinks to that of a common warbler. A cruel irony. That is why, at pricey restaurants, you see old coots pay $35 for a big white plate with three scallops on it and a dollop of rice and some emulsified celery. That is all the food they need, plus a pipkin of prune pati for dessert. They are not ranch hands after all. They're not NFL linemen. But eating habits die hard, and the holidays roll around, and the old guys shuffle up to the chow line and load up, and around midnight they are whinnying in their stalls, begging to be shot and put out of their misery.

The same happens with sex, not that we need to discuss this or anything. And something similar with work: You try harder than ever and keep falling farther behind. So gluttony and lust and pride start to fade late in life. So does anger. You can still work up a lather about the Current Occupant, that strange narcissistic man with the attention span of a 12-year-old, a national embarrassment whenever he travels abroad, but Bush-bashing is like slapping cockroaches with a slipper. After six years of it, you're done: It's time to find a new apartment.

Greed is persistent, of course, maybe worse, but who has time for sloth nowadays? And envy truly fades. Photographers line up behind barriers yelling, "Over here! This way! This way!" and a starlet climbs out of a limo, in a bright red dress with a neckline down to her gall bladder, and she looks this way and flashes her fifty-dollar smile, and briefly you envy her and wish you looked that good in bright light, and then you walk on and you try to remember her name and the movie she was in -- what was that about?

Last Sunday at church we walked up to Communion as two teenage boys played electric guitars. They were so busy being observed and maintaining their cool, they didn't notice how amazingly out of tune they were. Their pants hung as low as pants can hang as they praised the Lord in several keys at once, all sleepy and full of attitude and their hair hanging down, but I was moved by them, I really got caught up in the moment -- you know how it is, sometimes perfection can irritate you and some dopey thing knocks your socks off -- because, hey, it isn't Sweden, it's America! They struck me as messengers of grace, possibly angels, though I wouldn't want to carry that too far. I knelt at the altar next to my sandy-haired gap-toothed daughter, who is afraid someone will make her drink the wine, so she crosses her arms and looks forbidding. The lady with the wafers puts her hand on my girl's head and she winces.

It's a good life. A November morning and you walk home under the bare trees, listening to a frenzy of questions -- Why do we live here? Why do other people live in California? -- and you open the door to the smell of coffee and cinnamon. You make a fire in the fireplace and ease yourself into an old easy chair that has conformed to your own back and haunches, and dutifully you read the paper, but then you look over the top of the front page at the soft light streaming in, the delicate browns and yellows and greens of fall, the quiet street.

If you had some paint, you could make a painting of this, if you were a painter. You could title it "November Morning, 2006" and 50 years from now at the Museum of Old Stuff, a teenage boy on a field trip with his media class might look at it and think, "Cool." Teenage boys will be wearing something like jumpsuits then, with the waist up around their nipples and flared collars and two-tone hair and a pocket watch with a 4-foot gold chain and clear plastic shoes with curly toes. What they see in the painting is exactly what your heart desired, a quiet life among autumnal people. The mess that was on the front page back then is all forgotten, wars, legislatures, judges, trivia, but the lovely world of oaks and yard and boulevard is of permanent interest.

Thank you, dear Lord, for this good life and forgive us if we do not enjoy it enough.

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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

(c) 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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