Counting one’s blessings despite tears
You know what they say about rain. Into each life some of it must fall.
But gushers of it? Count your lucky stars if that has never happened to you.
I’m counting mine after a tear-soaked dinner recently with a woman I hadn’t seen in more than 50 years.
She was a high school classmate, but we were not close. We hadn’t laid eyes on one another since that day in 1962, when all the girls wore white gloves, all the boys sported never-before-worn blue suits, and the principal said we were ready to take the post-high school world by storm.
I hadn’t thought about my classmate since that graduation day. But she ran me down via Facebook and said she’d be in town one day soon. Could we have a meal together?
We met at a noisy restaurant (aren’t they all?). Ever the gentleman, I said to her: “You go first. Catch me up on the last 57 years.”
She was eager to do so. She wanted to vent — about her two miserable marriages, the rotten son who had stolen all her money, the daughter who seldom speaks to her, the neighbors who disrespect her.
I kept sipping my wine and saying uh-huh a lot. It was a bracing, disheartening tale.
I asked if she could ever have foreseen so many bumps that sunny afternoon in 1962, when we all reached for our diplomas with the left hand and shook the principal’s hand with our right, as we had been sharply instructed to do.
Never, she said. I thought it would all be a breeze, she said. “I thought I’d have a career, a family, a nice house, a dog I liked, a nice car. What in the world happened?” she wanted to know.
Then tears. Then a second glass of wine for her. Then more tears.
Finally, it was my turn. I told her about my professional misfortunes (more than a few). I told her about my health bumps (far more than a few).
I told her about the deaths of parents, stock market disasters, the time my neighbor got mad at me and left my trash can (full of orange peels and rancid fish bones) overturned on my lawn.
“So it isn’t just me?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I said.
“But you seem so happy,” she said.
I admitted that I am.
“How did you get that way?” she asked.
I ordered us both more wine and told her how I had always made it a point to learn from the bumps in my life.
Don’t stay mad and don’t be bitter, I said. Move on, for sure. But don’t move all the way on until you can honestly say that you’ve studied what went south.
Then and only then can you handle it better next time. Or avoid a next time.
This isn’t some Hallmark notion of happiness, I told her. It’s how you get in touch with your rhythms and your reality, and stay in touch with them.
You never really know yourself until you come face-to-face with something bad, I said. In a way, I added, you should welcome the bad. Year-round good happens only on television.
I’m also a big fan of counting one’s blessings, I said.
Believe it or not, I told her, I still go out of my way to say nice things to my wife. I actually think our adult children are making the world a better place (most of the time).
I get up each morning, make a list of everything I have to do that day — and enjoy the length of the list. I don’t waste time sighing, beating my breast and wishing my list were shorter. I brew a coffee and hop to it.
“Bob,” said my classmate of yesteryear, “you have really, really helped me. Thanks for listening.”
Isn’t that a blessing for this old high school grad? Isn’t that one I can count?
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.