Wednesday, November 14, 2007

what we tell ourselves

I used to be a really miserable and unhappy person.... That's a hard statement to admit to. But I have proof! My mom wrote a short entry in her medical book that has stayed with me my entire life. I've read it over and over so many times and it still saddens me when I think about it. It says, "Nancy is such an unhappy person. She never smiles." Keep in mind this was written when I was just an infant! Yet, today, I'm still an unhappy person. At least outwardly unhappy. I might be having a good time; I might be happy; I just don't show it. But these few words have never escaped me and are proof how words can hurt a child indefinitely.

I grew up in a terribly alcoholic and dysfunctional family. Another hard statement to admit to. My mom was an ugly, sloppy drunk and my dad was a mean drunk. I have few good memories of my home life. Perhaps this is why I don't show my happiness better.

I met my husband when I was 16 and after only a few short weeks, he joined the Army. Our actual time spent together was usually at a party on the weekends or on the phone. We really didn't have much in common. He was out to have a good time and I was looking for a life neatly wrapped with a white picket fence. I received an engagement ring one summer day, delivered by one of his army mates on leave. This was my escape. We got married a couple days after I turned 19 and stayed married for 22 years before calling it quits.

Okay, so where am I going with this? We all bring baggage with us. It might be emotional abuse; physical abuse; alcoholism; drugs; disappointments. Maybe we're looking for something. A brighter future. A perfect world. Mine was an attentive husband, who didn't drink. My cute cottage home had a white picket fence around it. The sun always shone! I was going to live happily ever after.... Okay, so that didn't happen.

Then I read a short little book--The Precious Present--by Spencer Johnson, MD. The jacket cover says, ".... it is a profound message that can help you be happy with yourself and your life forever." It goes on to say, "For all of us, the difficult problems of everyday life often appear complicated and insurmountable. But the solutions are usually surprisingly simple--when we find them."

The Precious Present is about living in the present. So often we live in the past and we let our regrets, disappointments, and less than perfect world pound us into the ground. And when we aren't living in the past, we're worrying about the future. Am I right? I've been to my share of counselors over the years and the only thing I learned was this. Throw all your "should haves" out the window. With "should haves" come regrets and disappointments. They shatter our less than perfect world. Learn to live your life one day at a time. Don't worry about the past but, rather, learn from it. Don't worry about your future because when you do, you aren't living today.

The book is about a young boy listening to an old man talk about this precious present. "It is a present because it is a gift," the contented man explained. "And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever." The story goes on to tell how the boy wondered about this present. Was it a bicycle? Would he get it for Christmas? Over the years, the young boy would return to the old man and ask about this present that could provide happiness forever. He would ask the old man to simply give him the present so he would be happy. The old man simply said, "Only you have the power to make yourself happy, only you." For you see, the precious present isn't something someone can give you. It is a gift you give yourself. The story continues with the boy searching his entire life for this perfect present until he finally "gets" it.

The book ends with the young boy now an old man and one day a little girl came to visit:

She liked to listen to "the old man," as she called him.
It was fun to be with him.
There was something special about him.
But she didn't know what it was.
One day, the little girl began to really listen to the old man.
Somehow she sensed something important in his calm voice.
He seemed very happy.

The little girl couldn't understand why.
"How could someone so old," she wondered, "be so happy?"
She asked
and the old man told her why.

Then all of a sudden, the little girl jumped up
and squealed with delight!
As the girl ran off to play,
the old man smiled.
For he heard what she had said...
"Wow!" she exclaimed.
I hope someday someone gives me...
the precious present....

It's never easy to live in the present but yet the most important thing we can do for ourselves. Today I'm grateful for this book and wish I could give it to each and every one of you as a gift. It's a book I will keep forever. It takes all of five minutes to read yet can change a person's life. We don't have to live our lives being unhappy or miserable. We can continue our journeys looking for the perfect world, but it doesn't exist. The most we can hope for is a life filled with contentment. And today, I am grateful for my precious present.

1 comment:

joey said...

A most touching post, Nancy. I visited earlier, hoping to comment but time eluded me ... running to the hospital caring for my ill sister (Nancy). Your words haunted me and I needed to return to tell you how you smile through your posts ... and that I so agree with you that 'when we aren't living in the past, we're worrying about the future. Am I right?'

Indeed you are. That why I love the adage that 'life is a present ... that's why it's called the present'.