There's No Time to Waste!

Recently, I was chatting with my older son Rick, telling him how remarkable my trail ride had been the other day when we encountered a pair of great snowy egrets who had not flinched as we lumbered by. It had astonished me. That reminded me of a rainy day dog walk at the beach last week when a formation of low flying pelicans blew by just over our heads! They had been so stunning that I had exclaimed out loud. I confessed to Rick that, oddly, I feel like I live in a state of constant amazement.
“Oh Mom you’d have loved the speaker we had at a recent firm retreat. He’s bestselling author, John O’Leary. He’s all about: really living, being fully awake, seeing being alive as living a miracle, and understanding that it is possible for one life to change the world.”
Well, that had my attention. I ran out and bought his new book, On Fire, and have been enjoying it.
I continued to mull over how it is that some live in happiness while others seem only to get by. It reminded me of the neighbor I had recently greeted with my hardy, “Hi ya Jim. You getting along okay?” His reply was, “just barely.” I thought about that. Hmmm. Then I considered some of the most exuberant people I know. What is their secret? I understood my own. Somehow early in my chaotic growing up years, I developed an ability to look past the ugly in my life and see beauty. I found a mental escape route that has become a lifetime habit.
Perhaps it’s a function of my recent very big 80th birthday, but lately I have been thinking there is no time to waste. You’ve not heard from me in some time because I’ve been helping my friends with health issues and have been attending far too many memorials. Somehow, all this has reminded me more than ever that now is our time on the planet; that there’s not a minute to spare. I thought of some of the people in my life who seem to live fully.
One of the most positive and happy people I’ve known was my dog breeder friend, Linda Isaacson. For the past ten years I have had the pleasure of a most special friendship with her as she was as “gaga” over our golden retrievers as I. We were morning texting buddies, and it was she who was at the core of our crazy golden retriever summer swim parties. Linda found great happiness in everyday life with her family, friends, and certainly the stunts of our beautiful dogs. We exchanged a lot of photos and stories. She led a joyous life and was generous with sharing herself. We unexpectedly lost her in December. Through our deep sorrow, we find comfort in all the love and “Linda-isms” she shared with us. Of course all the while loving the wonderful golden retrievers she brought into the world.
Yesterday I heard from my former teaching colleague Olga Moran, thanking me for donating to her private charity which helps 35 very poor children in a village in Honduras. Olga is another joyous person, always with a smile. I called and asked about her happiness secret. She told me she loves people and years ago when she went home to Honduras she realized that the children in the village were so poor that they could never go to school. She wanted to help them. She began crocheting hats and baking apple cakes to sell to her friends in Zumba class to earn money for the children.
For thirteen years now she has been going to Honduras, taking back-packs filled with shoes, school uniforms, and supplies. It warms her soul. As we continued our conversation, she reminded me that her life has not been easy, she was born and raised in Honduras and came to America to make a life. She and her husband did that, building a family with two children, however, their daughter is mentally challenged and lives in a group home. Olga says that it has not been easy, there’s been great difficulty, but her love of people, her constant enrollment in Zumba class, and her ability to give back to the poor children of Honduras, fill her with joy and a purpose. Olga is one person changing the world.
My friend James Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Capistrano Valley Boys and Girls Clubs, a man with a big smile, exudes happiness. He has been an inspiration to me for the twenty-two years we have been friends, as he’s easily one of the most joyful people I have ever known. I asked James about that. He said, “Donna, I grew up black, the last of nine kids, in Alameda, California. My mom cleaned and we were on welfare. There were two significant triggers in my childhood. When I was seven years old my sister took me to the Boys and Girls Club and that was life changing for me. The Club gave me hope. When I was about nine years old I walked by a white lady’s house. She called out to me, ‘You have the most beautiful smile. You put joy in people’s hearts.’”
James recalled that the lady’s comment caused his smile to grow bigger. He had no idea that he could bring joy to others. That compliment was huge in his young life and empowered him to understand that he could have a positive effect on others. It became a lifetime habit for him to express kindness and joy. James’ work through the Boys and Girls Club has changed thousands of lives. I will tell you more about these remarkable people in the future.
My global travels have taught me that generally, when children have their basic needs met, their default way of living is in happiness. I recall stopping in the most primitive villages on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and visiting. I would climb out of our tour van and would be surrounded by giggling gangs of half-naked brown-eyed five and six-year-olds. I loved their curious eyes as they studied me. Pulling out my video camera, I would film short movies of them. When they saw themselves, more giggling would erupt. They were in ecstasy! Replaying them over and over, there was so much laughter! I could feel their delight and that of the adults we interacted with through our guides. The poverty was like nothing I had ever seen before; pigs, chickens and dogs were sharing the bare bamboo huts with the families, yet smiles abounded.
Daily, on my dog walks, I look into the faces of the other walkers and generally I see happy. We can choose happy. We can choose to live in amazement and gratitude. We can live purposeful lives. Perhaps as John O’Leary urges, we must remind ourselves to be fully awake to the miracle of being alive. I would love to know what has struck you as “amazing” recently. Who do you know who exudes joy? I love to hear from you.