I'll admit that I've been a bit glum the last few months.
Contributing factors were a death in the family, friends with lots of troubles losing jobs and houses and spouses, acquaintances with terminal cancer, home town folks fighting floods and living in hotels, 'Merica's in a depression (let's just say it), and so on.* All that grey can tend to make the world seem darker than it is, kinda like the flip side of when you first fall in love or have a (healthy) baby when all the world seems technicolor and just right, also an illusion.
However, the clouds appear to be parting. I find I'm looking at the sunrise again on the way to work rather than just blasting to the office in a daze, and other of those "stop and smell the roses" kinds of things I've been neglecting.
It's a cliche, but it's often the little things that bring perspective.
Last week my wife and I spent the day at doctor's offices getting those little niggling things that add up in middle age diagnosed or (phew) dismissed. (Carpel tunnel for me! Whoo!) One of our fellow travelers in the afternoon waiting room was a sweet, ancient old lady who was so bent over her walker, at first glance your heart just broke for her. Observation proved there was still a very lively and happy person in that tiny weathered body. For example, when asked for her insurance cards, the flurry of activity to procure them showed no hesitation or confusion. It's amazing watching hands that gnarled pluck a 2" x 3" piece of plastic out of a tiny leather pocket.
As she was checking out (aided by her daughter I presume, who appeared to be in her 70s herself), she was delighted at the tissue dispenser which was a scrunched-up face with a huge irritated red nose, which was the point of dispensary. "Oh, I like this!" she said patting it on the head.
I don't know why, but her joy in that little thing made my whole day.
TLD: In a recent "Rolling Stone" issue Zach Galifianakis said that when he's blue, he hangs out at the park and talks to senior citizens, following advise from his parents. I flashed on that when the above happened. I think I might try it someday.
The next day, my wife and I finally decided spontaneously to join this century and get a new flat-screen TV (more on that in another post). As I waited for the girls to come back from some part of the store (buying something that big takes time and they went browsing to relieve the boredom), a pretty young mom who was about 7 months pregnant walked up to the drinking fountain with her darling little 2-year-old girl. She was just a shade too small to reach it, so mom picked her up and bent her over the taller fountain. "I like that one," she said in that little tiny angel voice they have at that age, pointing at the shorter fountain. Mom was slightly exasperated at that, but like everyone with those little little ones, it seems like a crime to not grant such a sweet and innocent request, and so mom bent her bulbous waist as much as she could and got the little moppet down to right level to take a drink. That made my whole day, again.
Those two simple statements of pleasure, the small joys, really resonated with me and reminded me how important it is to be open to those little glimpses of magic.
Then, last night I watched the documentary about the late, great Bill Hicks: American: The Bill Hicks Story. (So titled as it was produced by the BBC; Bill was huge in Britain.) It ended up being another entry in the "end of life" movie festival that my wife and I have unintentionally put together lately.** Like the others, it laced such a final and inherently tragic event in life with the renewal, hope, and release that is there. Hicks faced his end with grace and love. He didn't burden anyone unnecessarily, but made sure they got closure and felt loved.
Death has been weighing heavily on my wife and I, having dealt with it again recently in addition to facing the probable demise of elderly parents in the coming years (probably soon). The Bill Hicks story, along with the others, seemed to be a postcard from God, if you will, to remind us (at least me) that while life, and particularly death, sometimes seems out to get ya, there is much joy and fun to be had.
The trick is remembering to remember that, and to actively pursue joy. It's like marriage that way; it may seem like it should just naturally happen but in truth, you have to cultivate it if you want it to be good.
*Btw, in case you were wondering: happy to report my immediate family is doing great. God willing our good fortune will continue. Having a wonderful summer break. The teenager is turning heads (with me doing my best not to glare at the boys, was there myself once) and the little one got her first lessons in lighting fireworks this last 4th and was very good at lighting fuse and getting away.
**Our odd and unintentional little "end of life" movie festival:
The Suicide Tourist | Frontline - you can watch the whole thing online by following the link. Fair Warning: you see people really die.
You Don't Know Jack with Al Pacino channeling Jack Kevorkian
How to Die in Oregon.
American: The Bill Hicks Story