Friday, September 09, 2005

Enjoying the moment....

I was talking with my Mom yesterday, she’s been having some medical problems and I like to check in on her when I can. In the course of that conversation she said (as many older folks do) “I’m ready whenever my time comes, I’ve had a good life”. I shocked her a little when I said, “You know what Mom? Me too!”

She started telling me I was too young to feel that way… I stopped her and said… “Wait a minute… I said I was ‘ready’… I didn’t say I wanted to leave a minute before my time!”

We went on to have a conversation about enjoying each day. I reminded her (not that she really needed to be reminded) of my ‘close calls’ with death and said “Every day, since then has been a bonus, a gift, I hate to waste even a minute!”

But I did, for many years; I never took the time, to just enjoy the day.

So often we’re all wrapped up in what’s wrong with our lives that we forget all the things that are right. (or at least I was)

It’s not hard, in fact it’s all too easy, to get wrapped up in our problems. After all, it’s the problems that are demanding our attention. There’s a whole list in all of our daily lives:

  • dripping faucet
  • the leak in the roof
  • the lawn needs mowing
  • the car needs brakes
  • you're not making enough money
  • gas prices are too high
  • how are we going to pay the power bill
  • groceries cost how much!?!
  • the raise/promotion you didn’t get
  • A boss who doesn’t seem to understand you have a life, outside the office
Feel free to add your own items to the list as I’m sure you have at least this many. With all of these problems/issues nagging at us daily it’s no wonder we end up focused on them, instead of focusing on the more important aspect of our lives, (if you like being happy anyway) what’s right with it.

I hear folks say, “everything in my life is screwed up”… however, when I start asking a few simple questions, it turns out that not everything is a problem, but the problems are all they’re thinking about.
  • The first thing I often ask is how’s your health?
  • Are you eating 2-3 times a day?
  • You’ve still got your house right?
  • Your wife (or husband), y’all are still together?
  • Still got the car you bought last year?
  • How’s the job, you are still working right?
Well obviously not all of these apply to everyone, but I hope you’re getting the idea. In most cases, the person I’m talking with is answering positively to all of these questions, and they most certainly have good things going on in their lives.

Somehow though, all of that has been obscured, covered up, by the problems they’re experiencing and perceive as all important. The trick is to get out from under the cloud of the problems, realize that despite whatever might be going wrong, there’s generally a lot more going right, and find a way to keep that fact in the ‘front’ of your thoughts, and let the problems drift to the back.

One way I’ve found that works for me, is to put the problems (like the household repairs) on a list. That way every time I take more items off the list, than I put on, I feel better about everything. Even when I’m adding items to the list, the simple process of writing it down means I don’t have to think about it again until I’m ready to spend some time on resolving it.

In July of 2004, I got laid off, made a career change, parted ways… what ever you want to call it... It was an emotionally devastating event for me. I’d been thinking about making a change, I was totally unhappy where I was, wanted to do something else, hated going to work and was developing a fairly solid dislike for my employer… all very ‘unhappy’ making ingredients…. The one thing that kept me going was coming home each night and spending time with my wife.

No, we didn’t have perfect harmony, but even when we’re in the middle of a major disagreement, I still prefer her company to nearly anyone else’s. She’s almost always in my corner, supports every passion I have, and when I’m really down, she’s like a breath of fresh air for me.

When she wasn’t capable of dealing with my depression (and let’s face it, who wants to, or can, deal with it nearly everyday), I’d take the bike for a short 20-30 minute spin to clear my head and remind me “why” I work.

I work, for a living. I do not, any longer, live for work.

Even with both of us trying to pull me out of my funk… I wasn’t budging. I’d given over 10 hard, long years to the company, with a promise of “you’ll have a job until you want to retire” … and in the previous six months I’d seen all the same signs, pointed at me this time, that were there whenever this guy decided he no longer needed someone… I was feeling like a fool, I’d believed his promises… well, no, it was more like I wanted to believe and turned a blind eye to anything that didn’t fit my ‘picture’… The reality was so bad I could make it fit any more.

Despite all of that, when the time came for the formal parting of the ways, it was like being hit with a bat. I stayed pretty stoic in the actual meeting and managed to squeak out a few extra tidbits in the settlement package, but as I was walking for the door, the emotions began to hit.

It was the whole range too, in the less than 90 seconds it took to walk from the building I went from angry, to sad, to hurt, to fear, to anger again… On the drive home… the tears came… mostly tears of self pity... feeling sorry for myself that despite all the work, I’d been cast out anyway… I eventually gathered myself up enough to call my wife’s cell phone, as I really needed her to talk to when I got home, as luck would have it she was already home.

We spent all of 20 minutes after I got home discussing what a raw deal I’d gotten, and then began to look for a ‘bright side’. It didn’t take us long to find it. She refused to let me have any self pity. She reminded me of all the work, the nights, weekends, promises made to me and repeatedly broken… that this was meant to be… it was just another step in the road.

We talked about the debilitating effects of the two ruptured disc's in my neck, the pain, the surgeries, the long recovery periods... and how if this had to happen, at least we were past that period.

The brightest spot of all? It was that I’d never have to work there again, period. No more late night and weekend phone calls, calls disrupting our dinners, vacations and holidays.

We celebrated my ‘liberation’ that night by going out to our favorite restaurant for dinner, staying up late and sleeping in the next day. By that next afternoon though, I’d made some phone calls, and set up a small project in Greensboro that would start the following Monday.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. You see there was a time in my life where all I was able to focus on was what was wrong. Never taking the time to enjoy the various things I’d accomplished, just moving it to the ‘done’ column and moving directly into the ‘next’ thing.

I was lamenting my fate one day to a fellow a bit older than I was then, and he said to me “but look at all you’ve accomplished”. That stopped me dead in my tracks, and actually caused me to ask him what he meant. He explained by listing off about a dozen things that he knew I’d done, and that had impressed him. I tried to play it off by saying “Anyone could have done those things”… to which he replied.. “But ‘anyone’ didn’t do them, 'you' did, you should be proud of the things you’ve done.”

Well, all these years later, I still remember that talk, and every time I start to thinking about what’s wrong, I hear his voice, and try to start thinking about what’s right.

For the record, there are plenty of things wrong in my life, an uncertain employment future, that leaky roof, most everything on the list and on and on... but, that’s just a part of life, there will always be things wrong, the challenge is, to keep them in perspective, especially when they’re screaming at you for attention.

The trick is, enjoy the day, it’s only here for a little while, and when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Don’t waste your days being angry, depressed, or doing anything other than trying your best to enjoy every moment.

You’ll be glad you did!

6 comments:

Firehawk said...

Bill,

It's a great lesson that's hard to learn and easy to forget. You are responsible for whether or not you're happy and content. Those emotions are only very roughly connected to all the outside stuff in life--the roof or the job or if your boss understands you. Yes, things that happen can be rough to deal with, but you choose at some point if you're going to dwell on the positives or the negatives. Some people with "everything" can be terribly unhappy. Some people with "nothing" can be perfectly content. It's all about what you're focusing on.

Again, another good post. Thanks.

Bill said...

Firehawk - As always, great to see you, I love reading your take on my thoughts.

It is, in fact, all too easy to forget. I marvel at times at my ability to hold my own personal 'pity party'... when, in reality there's so much to be happy about.

Material things, while fun and all of that, are in the end, just material things... they come, they go, they wear out, break down and lose their appeal over time.

To me, the person who has 'everything' has family and friends they care about, and who care about them in return.

My NY trip pointed that out to me in ways I could have never imagined. Seeing those folks again, spending time, sharing stories, like we'd seen each other the day before. It made me realize how blessed I've been to have found folks like that!

Nina said...

Your post reminded me of this quote: “We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sadness.” David Weatherford

We have to have one to know the other, otherwise we wouldn't know the difference.

You are right that many times people get stuck in the mindset of what is wrong. Instead of what is right . . . So this is a great reminder. Thanks!

Bill said...

Nanina - It's the yin and yang of life for sure. We must experience one to know the value of the other.

I believe life is meant to be lived, enjoyed, fully. Part of that is opening your heart, feeling pain, sadness, hurt... it's because of these experiences that we're eventually able to know great joy, love and happiness.

Each step I've taken along the path has brought me to this exact spot. I wouldn't change a thing!

Whit said...

Bill -- Always love your posts, but this one especially provided salve for a tender heart. It's funny, because the one line that I loved (which wasn't even the jist of your post) was that even when you and your wife are disagreeing that you would rather spend time with her than most people you know! Ain't it the truth! I can't wait for my husband to come home so that I can tell him that.

And, it's interesting because it seems like thoughts and ideas come in seasons. I have had this similar conversation with two different people in the last two days about two very disparate things.

The first was with a pastor's wife who has come to Dallas after their church was flooded in New Orleans. As I talked to the elderly woman -- who is absolutely precious, might I add -- and she told me about going with a friend of hers to buy some clothes, it was in the process that she realized she only had the clothes on her back at the time. And I smiled and reminded her "And look how easily those clothes were replaced." To which she said, "You're right...I traded old for new."

And then she began to cry as she talked about the 3,000 congregants of their church who had been dispersed across cities along the South and that she was saddened at the thought of knowing that their church family would never ever be the same again. Many of those families would put down roots where they landed and wouldn't come back. To which I replied, "Don't be sad -- be excited! They weren't 'dispersed' -- they were 'dispatched.' God has sent them out, and your husband's teaching and this experience has prepared them to go out into other places and be the face of grace and strength and resilience."

The second conversation was today with a friend of mine who lost her 14-yr-old son to cancer one year ago this week. "She said that there is a constant battle for her mind to become bitter and discouraged and to 'check out' of doing good things for other people and being present for her other two children who need her." But she said that while she has days where she gets down, she doesn't ever give up hope.

After talking to these two women who have more to cry about than I could ever imagine, it certainly humbles my attitude about whining or complaining about anything.

So Bill, once again, you have summed up, crystalized and captured the essence of the lesson I needed to hear.

(At some point, you will have to open a PayPal account for I can start paying you for this online therapy. I knew it was only time before I'd need virtual psychiatric help! And get it, too!)

Bill said...

Whit - I'm ummmmm... speechless (wordless?)... Thank you, your comment came in the middle of my next post.. and as you'll see, you made me realize some things as well! :)

Everytime I write a post, I sincerely hope it will touch someone, in a positive way.

Comments, letting me know I have mean more than I ever really have words to express.

Thanks again.