Today I came across a photo I had forgotten. It was a family snap taken on the Gold Coast about five years ago.
My husband, 21-year-old daughter and 24year-old son stared back at me. Bright, beautiful, strong, happy, alive. We had flown in for Christmas and went to all the theme parks and had loads of fun. It hit me. The photo. The expectation of what would become of those adult children with so much potential.
Each day I wake with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach. Something is wrong. There is something wrong with my little universe. Conveniently, my thinking brain kicks in to remind me that my son is dead.
My emotional brain screams: “No! Not my son! Not my beautiful son!” Once again my thinking brain helpfully steps in and shares the memory of seeing him lying in his coffin. So handsome, but dead. For a long time after he died I had this constant war going on in my head: “He can’t be dead. He is.”
He was so alive. When he lived, he lived well. He ran at life and caught everyone up in this journey. At his funeral, people did not talk about what job he had, what grades he got, what money he had or anything remotely attached to his status. They talked about how many people he made laugh. His friend stood in front of the chapel and mimicked his starjumps. A story was shared about how he made a complete stranger on the Edinburgh streets laugh so much that he cried. His sister talked about the times they laughed together. This was his success.
I wonder how it would be if we measured our success not by what we accumulate but by how many people we make laugh or even smile. Imagine getting home from work and announcing to your partner: “I had a fantastic day. I made 10 people smile.” In my son’s world, people would not be admired for the clothes they wore, they would be sought out for the jokes they shared. (Although he did like to wear nice suits and looked pretty good in them.)
When my son was 16, he had a bike accident at school and broke his arm, got abrasions on his face and required seven sutures near his eye. While sitting in hospital, I looked at him battered and bruised and suggested that he was lucky that he had a high pain threshold. He just shrugged his shoulders and said: “It’s not that you don’t feel the pain, you just don’t pay attention to it.”
Each day I try very hard to pay attention to finding joy; to make people smile or let them make me smile. I pay attention to the world around me and seek out beauty. The river, the parks, the sun, the ducks, the people who make me laugh. And every day I manage to find joy.
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