When I approached my fourth decade on this earth, I discovered I knew nothing.
Despite being firmly within my adult years – and heading quickly into middle age – I realized that in this vast and broad world, I didn’t have anything figured out. And in that space I could finally breathe.
Instead of trying to pretend I knew, or beating myself up for not knowing better, I was finally open to just learn.
And as happens when you’re open to learn, life gave me some lessons.
Despite being hale and hearty most my life, I got very sick and had to leave my job as I battled an intermittent low-grade fever that stuck with me for a year. Then, despite having been relatively untouched by death – my 83-year-old dad succumbed to illness. Six months later my 20-year-old son fell to his death during a climbing accident. And within the last couple of weeks my 53-year-old sister died from cancer.
One resounding lesson: Life is short.
The second lesson is that time is wasted waiting for happiness.
My goal is to be happy. Now. Because tomorrow may be too late.
When I got sick my doctor said my illness was directly related to levels of stress in my life.
She handed me a prescription that listed the following: Drink water, eat protein, sleep, have one hour a day doing something you love, find people who love you and are willing to help you, and go outside.
It sounds simple, but it wasn’t easy for me to do.
I was a person hounded by responsibility. I was the publisher of a daily newspaper in Seattle and was seeing national advertising numbers plummet. Almost every moment of every day I worried about how the fate of an 119-year-old paper was in my hands – and how I may fail. When I wasn’t worrying about the responsibilities I bore at work, I worried about the financial responsibilities I bore as the main breadwinner at home.
I couldn’t relax during the day. I tossed and turned at night.
But, slowly, I began to learn.
I spent time sitting on the shore of Puget Sound. I listened to the waves and I breathed.
I used a few months of sick leave I had earned over the years to return to Moab. I took naps holding my new grandson. I visited with friends. I sat in the sun and I breathed.
And soon I realized that I no longer had the fight in me to solve the pattern of declining national advertising numbers. I surrendered. I let go of my job. And the fevers soon subsided.
I turned from worrying about how to keep a newspaper alive to worrying about how to keep my dad alive. Soon after I returned to Moab, his health quickly declined.
After a year of falls and physical therapy and hospital visits and hospital stays – I saw a pattern to the dance. One step forward, two steps back. Soon the fight was over and it was time to let go.
Six months later I spent the entire morning with my 20-year-old son as we delivered copies of the Moab Sun News. He told me how he’d never been happier and was planning an overnight climbing trip with friends for that afternoon.
And his bright light was extinguished.
I had to let go again.
There’s a Buddhist belief that states that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
We all have loss. We lose jobs we love. We lose people we love. We can love people who will never love us in return. We can strive with every fiber of our being and still fail at the task at hand. We can give all we have to give, and sometimes it isn’t enough.
And we have to let it go.
Yet, joy is still abundantly offered to all of us.
I found it bouncing grand babies on my knee, by loving and being loved in return, by doing a job well-done, and knowing that I somehow helped someone else, or contributed to society that day.
I’ve discovered it while sharing a meal with friends, or a cold drink on a hot day, or a hot drink on a cold day.
So often that joy is simply being outside to breathe.
I learned to let go and be here now.
“My goal is to be happy. Now. Because tomorrow may be too late.”