Finding Happy in the Here and Now

by Jean Marie Johnson

When I finish my degree…
If that raise comes through…
When we buy our first house…
If we can work things out…
When I lose weight…
If my kids make it through school…
When I get through my chemotherapy…

We know better than to cancel out the heartbeat of hope that lies just beyond the ellipsis. Hey, I'm good with that.

Not so good, apparently, with the happy in the here and now. But life delivers our lessons when and often where we least expect them.

It was one of those clear early autumn days when hope hangs in the balance between a soft summer and the foreboding of another northeast winter...nothing that a little gospel music balanced with some vintage Jimi Hendrix wouldn't settle. I had gone to visit my mother who has made her home in a nursing facility for the past five years. A Sunday afternoon, I wanted to take her down to the community room where 1940's war time music was guaranteed to draw a big crowd.

"Come on, Mom. Let's go. They're playing your music."

She was tired, more compliant than inspired. But good-natured and ever eager to please, she grabbed "Buddy," her affectionately-named cane, and off we went.

We didn't get far. On our way down the meandering hallway, she paused in genuine awe as her soft brown eyes scanned the wall before her. It was a tapestry of sorts, photos of residents on the patio, having lunch, visiting The Botanical Gardens on a field trip, playing bingo, and petting a service dog. It was a snapshot of life as it is lived in the here and now, in "The Home."

"Look, Jeannie. Such nice people live here." I smiled, marveling at life through her eyes. As she turned toward the opposite wall, her face assumed a perplexed look. She became uncertain.

"What's this, Mom?" Of course, I knew that it was a depiction of the future, the "coming soon" new facility which residents like my mom would, in a short matter of time, call home. The plans and room shots, staged to perfection, had been up for months. They were purposeful, intended to make residents comfortable with change and happy about what the future had in store.

"Beats me. It sure looks fancy. You know, Jeannie, they're so good to me here."

I am still not sure if she was simply confused or disinterested. Perhaps both. I thought for a split second that I would explain the impending move—again—but this time, touched by the grace of my mom's good heart, I held my tongue.

She looked away, leaned on her cane, and simply repeated "They're so nice here."

That was the point I was missing. A mind may grow old and feeble, but a heart in the here and now is a different matter.

At least, it can be.

For my mom, the wall of the present and the wall of the future were like bookends devoid of intermediary content. The space between the two was a chasm that might as well have been 800 feet, instead of a mere eight. I had no business messing with that when, for her, hope and happy were synonymous with the here and now.

If I didn't know her, I would think that she was the one messing with me.

But then, she always had that sort of wisdom, the kind that reminded me that when you find a penny, you put it in the "Poor Box" at church, because there was always someone poorer than you. The kind that encouraged me to feed the birds, even if it meant throwing out scraps on the second floor roof of a second rate flat to scrappy urban pigeons that made a big mess of what little you claimed as yours.

My mom is the kind who simply lives by the knowing that as long as you have breath, you can do good. And, you could be happy.

I, on the other hand, tend to complicate things.

There are thousands of resources "out there" on hope and happiness: seminars, retreats, on-line courses, books, counselors, coaches, apps, and mantras. I choose to believe that most are rooted in good intentions. And yet, I am choosing to ignore their more esoteric allure in favor of clearing the deck. On this decidedly rare occasion, I am following my mother's lived wisdom about finding happy in the here and now.

This is big. It sounds sappy, even to me. But I am open to the probability that happy isn't "over there," in a perfectly-imagined tomorrow. It just may be in the perfectly imperfect here and now.

No if's and no conditions. No ellipsis. Thanks, Mom.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

Before and After
Before and After
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