I saw an editorial recently entitled There Is Almost Too Much To Worry About. I suppose that throughout the history of the world there have been times when war, disease, and economic insecurity have coincided to upended the human ability to maintain a happy disposition. Sometimes I think that therein lies the old saw that “ignorance is bliss.” Whenever we begin to contemplate the dire seriousness of the issues facing the entire globe there is often an overwhelming temptation to echo the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Even in the best of times each of us endure personal challenges that can crush our spirits and threaten to push our minds into submission to sorrow and even anger. When we sense a collapse of our control over our situations in life we respond in differing ways ranging from attempting to pretend that nothing is wrong to being paralyzed by depression. Often our reactions are a hybrid of the range of emotions along a continuum. All we know inside is that we are not alright even if we pretend to be.
Like everyone I’ve had my share of difficult challenges although mine have almost always been accompanied by compassionate support from other people, often those that I least suspected would come to my aide. I’ve learned how to carve out moments of sanity during sorrowful times as a prophylactic against feeling totally defeated by life’s most insidious moments. I realized long ago that first and foremost I have to care for myself by creating snatches of happiness even in the darkest times.
I have drawn heavily on members of my family whenever I found the world opening a chasm under my feet. Often they had no idea that I was even suffering or that they were the medicine that I used to heal my sorrow. I used to drop in on my grandfather unannounced and just sitting in his presence calmed me and gave me the resolve to stay calm and carry on. My husband is a rock of wisdom and support who always seems to know exactly what I need when times get tough. My daughters allow me to vent with honesty that I would not dare to reveal to anyone else. My brothers are my soulmates who have shared the earliest difficulties that threatened to sideline me into an abyss of darkness. My dozens of cousins remind me that there are always wonderful moments of fun and laughter that promise better days ahead. My grandchildren show me how much hope there remains for a bright future. With family my happiness always returns.
I have had the good fortune to enjoy the friendship of truly remarkable people. Many of those from my past are now gone, but new younger folk have entered my life to bring me joy. I find such goodness in the people that I know, even when we have different opinions about how the problems of life should be tackled. They remind me constantly that while there might be evil in our midst, there is far more love and kindness. We lope along together with our human imperfections supporting each other no matter the circumstances. We push each other uphill in tragic times and stroll comfortably when the path is smooth. Always, just thinking of my friends clears my mind and brings a hopeful smile to my face.
I still find great joy in teaching. My official career ended ten years ago, but since then I have found ways to keep my hand in the business of education. I teach and tutor small groups or single individuals now. My scope of topics ranges from long division to exponential functions. Not only does educating students in the sometimes mysterious and challenging ways of mathematics help then to unravel the puzzles, but it also keeps my mind from going into spasms of worry when times are tough. Just as schooling soothed my savage thoughts after my father died, so too does teaching keep me focused on hopefulness.
I cannot imagine a life without reading. I have a voracious appetite for a good story, a brilliant editorial, a well researched article. Reading keeps me attuned to the commonalities that we humans have shared from the very beginnings of time. Considering the words of others forces my mind to move away from my own obsessions and realize that everyone experiences ups and downs and questions about the best ways to live. There is a pattern in our history and a similarity in our desires. Reading soothes me, delights me and reminds me that I am never alone.
I love to write. I am better at expressing who I really am in the combinations of letters that I type onto the screen of my laptop. My heart flows through the tapping of the keys and into a kind of confessional to the world that I do indeed see and hear both suffering and joy, ugliness and beauty. Writing is a purposeful release of my mulling into a form that I hope will inspire and comfort.
There is also something deep inside me that comes from my very DNA. Just as my two grandmothers transformed the earth with their lovely gardens, so too do I till and fertilize and nurture the plants in my yard. I talk to the roses as I prune their thorny branches. I caress the blooms on my hibiscus bushes that burst forth in shade of red, yellow, and tangerine. Just dipping my hands into the soil performs miracles of healing inside my brain. Being one with the earth almost makes me giddy.
I use these avenues of happiness as tonic for my soul. They work to keep me focused on the remarkable miracles of compassion and kindness that unfold even when things seem almost hopeless for the human race. I smile again and push forward even if my steps feel heavy. I know that there are promising tomorrows because I have seen them with family, friends, teaching, reading, writing and working in my garden. We may be dormant for awhile but new blooms always burst forth. New life tells us that we are not doomed. Joy always finds its way.