I don’t know if haunted is the right word, but over the last year or so, I’ve been visited by a memory over and over again, and I can’t seem to let it go.
It’s as if it’s showing up, trying to teach me something, but I’m just not connecting the dots.
When I was in 5th grade, my cousin and her family moved in with us. For reasons I only understand through the lens of my childhood memory, tough times fell on them, and because it was the 80s, a tough future lay ahead of them, too.
Their landlord told them they had to move (because his beautiful daughter with her beautiful family wanted their house). So they packed up their belongings into taped together IGA boxes and showed up at our house with their six bags of clothes.
No one knew how long they’d be living with us, but as far as I was concerned, this was the happiest day of my entire life.
My cousin Sarah was just a month older than I was, and we did everything together. (Everything isn’t an exaggeration, either. When we were really little, we didn’t want to spend a second apart during our playtime, so when one of us had to take a potty break, both of us did – using the same toilet, at the same time. Thank God for little bottoms and for a mom who wasn’t overly consumed with germ theory. If you’re saying, “Lindsay, that’s disgusting,” then join the chorus we heard from our big sisters. They pummeled us with shame.)
On one particularly warm fall morning, those two big sisters went with me and Sarah into a woods fit for any Thoreau fan. Because we didn’t get much alone time – being that 12 people were crammed into an 1800 sq. ft. house, that woods held all the promise of escape and adventure any kid from the 80s could have asked for.
Maple trees hovered over our heads, and the air was crisp with the smell of fallen leaves. We weren’t afraid of spiders or their webs, and it never occurred to us that some weird stranger could be lurking deep inside the woods. We were just four girls on an adventure.
Sometime into that adventure, however, we heard a loud gunshot. Now, I’m not sure if I had ever in my life heard a real gun sound off, but I think that a gunshot is a little bit like the smell of weed – no prior experience needed.
Our ancient brains immediately registered the danger and we all went sprinting for the road – shoe to asphalt, deep breath. Shoe to asphalt, deep breath.
I think I must have been leading the pack because I remember getting the distinct sensation that nobody was following behind me any more. When I stopped and looked back, Sarah was in tears, surrounded by our big sisters. They were all staring at a giant white mess splayed all over the road.
Right before the gunshot had gone off, Sarah had discovered and collected a giant puff mushroom. We had planned to take it home and learn more about it, but in her speed-racing fear, she tripped and fell.
Left on their own, puffballs can grow up to 5 feet wide and 44 pounds. Sarah’s was probably only about 12 inches wide, and it felt light as air. If you find a puffball at the wrong time, it can be so poisonous that it will kill you, and when a puffball drops to the ground, its solid mass becomes a Jackson Pollock disaster – trillions of spores dotted across the landscape everywhere.
Of course, our big sisters were laughing. Being older than us, they saw the humor in the entire experience. But for me and Sarah, our veins were still pumping with cortisol and adrenaline. We hadn’t forgotten the gunshot, and there was now one casualty on the road in front of us.
When we got home, we told our moms the story of the massacred puffball, and they likely told us to stay away from the woods, but for many years afterwards, Sarah and I shared a similar grief over the lost mushroom. We never talked about it, but when the memory would shake itself loose, we’d look at one another with a shared understanding – something else was left behind on the road that day.
And writing about it now, here’s what I think that something else was: The innocence of our childhoods.
We had entered that woods with unrestrained curiosity. We knew the world could be scary, but the woods felt like our own private wonder world, and we left that woods with an Eve-like knowledge that the world isn’t safe – anywhere.
When Sarah and I stood on the road, gazing at the powdery mushroom mess, we knew we had zero power to put it back together. It was (for us) a once-in-a-lifetime find, and we only got a single moment to revel in its mystery.
“Life is fleeting, like a passing mist,” the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote. “It is like trying to catch hold of a breath; All vanishes like a vapor.”
Or in our case, poofs away like a puffball.
Maybe this memory is bugging me because it wants me to understand and remember just how fleeting life is.
So when the worry I feel as a mom or as a business owner or as a citizen in a very unsteady world is juxtaposed against the beauty of a single moment (the laugh of my child, the victory of a client, the unseen work of a Good Samaritan), I have a choice to make: I can revel in the momentary beauty or I can mourn the reality that none of it is going to last.
Phew. That went deeper than I expected, so if you’re still with me, here’s the business lesson I’m learning from it all: Business is like that deep woods, filled with both beauty and danger, and if we want to create a business that makes it out of the woods, we have to be willing to invest in parts of our businesses that build legacy – the parts that understand that our role is fleeting, but our investment is long-lasting.
For me, this work comes in the form of story. Business owners touch and move and change the world with the stories they tell and the stories they help their clients tell.
Metrics don’t go to the grave with you.
Money doesn’t, either.
But the stories of the lives you’ve changed? That lasts generations beyond YOU.
So hold on to the mushroom, if only for a brief moment, its beauty and wonder and mystery will change you (if you let it).