(I am reposting this one -[originally posted in 2011] as my son, Matt, is running for Charleston City Council. Perhaps this post will provide a little insight into what it would mean to vote for him. Feel free to share – and . . . Go Matt!)
Though I have four beautiful, wonderful children – all worthy of thousand upon thousands of words, the focus of this post is going to be about my oldest son. There are a few family members and friends with whom I have shared his stories, but overall, I keep a tight lip on them. And he is no longer a child – rather a guy in his early thirties. He would say that he is mainstream, fairly innocuous, run-of-the-mill, just a regular person. But, there is a little more.
For those who know him, sorry for the detail here. For those who do not, he is a great person, one who faces numerous physical challenges in his life. The types of challenges really don’t matter. I could detail them, but to what avail. It probably is suffice to say that these challenges are truly significant and require serious work-arounds for most everything in his daily life. But, as he frequently says, it’s all good.
And it is all good. My son’s accomplishments, regardless of the steep incline he faces with his physical challenges, are many. The laundry list of things he did that no one ever thought he would do, including me, is a long, extensive one. Again, the types of activities on the list really do not matter, (although the parasailing and the snowmobiling really tested my comfort level). It is probably suffice to say that he has said yes to more unbelievable adventures than he has said no . . . some with great success, some with utter failure, but all with joy and humor.
My son has an interesting sense of purpose, one that I have only begun to truly understand. So often, a sense of purpose stems from a career path or an occupation or a specialized job, something that is related to an individual’s work. Not so with my oldest. He knows he has a purpose, but it has nothing to do with what occurs in a 9 to 5 paycheck world. His world is guided by something much more intrinsic and much less tangible. He has his own beat, his own rhythm, his own path. Yet, it does not exactly fit into the concept of the road not taken as discussed by American poet Robert Frost. It actually is a direction many of us choose and follow. He just does it better. For him, it is all about happiness.
Some folks would claim that my son’s life is about hilarity rather than pure happiness, for he is a funny guy. No comical moment is left unturned for him. The stories are many and they all end in laughter. One great such moment happened just a couple of years ago. As he was being airlifted via helicopter from hospital to hospital during a very serious health crisis, he asked about the cost of the ride. According to the doctors and pilots on board, when he heard it was many thousands of dollars, he wanted to know if service included soft drinks, peanuts and free in-flight movies. Because for him, it is all about happiness.
Recently he spent time with a friend whose level of challenges are – and it is difficult to even comprehend this – even more significant than my son’s. When he came home, he talked about the experience. He and his friend sat out in the backyard . . . for two hours . . . watching nature . . . talking . . . listening. I asked him if he had fun. He looked matter-of-factly at me and said, “Mom, it was all good. I am just happy that he was happy. Y’know, I am good at being happy. It’s what I can do.”
And he is good at it. But how many folks can actually say that they are good at being happy.
Andy Rooney, American’s lovable curmudgeon, recently retired. His media persona was all based on his ability to whine and complain. Mr. Rooney took the time to comment on those little negative pet peeves that continuously drive some folks crazy. People watched his weekly gentle rants for more than thirty years. His negative characterizations kept us engaged. He was often times hilarious! But his hilarity was framed in the negative. His on-camera character never seemed happy.
If it is all about happiness, then there are clearly some folks who do it better than others as evidenced by my son versus Mr. Rooney. Richard Carlson, in his book “Dont Sweat the Small Stuff . . and it is all small stuff“, (an oldie, but a goodie), asks readers to put life into perspective in order to make life happier. He suggests considering that which is important and that which is not. Lost keys? Not important. Ran out of milk? Let it go. Co-worker slacking? Take a deep breath. According to Mr. Carlson, avoiding the drama of the small stuff frees up time to live and be happy.
There are people out there, however, who must always sweat the small stuff – people who can’t open a refrigerator, can’t zip a zipper, can’t lift a book, dress themselves, feed themselves, and the list goes on. My son manages to constantly sweat through that type of stuff and still ends up creating a life that is all about happiness.
In January 2000, Barbra Streisand finished her Millennium Concert with a slow melodious version of the song, Happy Days are Here Again (Ager and Yellen, 1929). At that time, the world was ushering in a new century and it was a great moment to promote change, especially the type that left behind all of the sad/bad times and looked forward to all the happy days ahead. Ms. Streisand planted her audience firmly in the right direction on the exact moment the century turned anew – a once in a lifetime performance for her and a once in lifetime experience for the audience. In listening to that album many times, the importance of replanting – repositioning – refocusing once again becomes very clear.
Through all of this, I have learned I need to somehow work to become one of the voices who promotes a life that is all about happiness – whether it is through great American poetry, the desire to be unlike the classic curmudgeon, via a book that changes what we sweat, the power of music, or through the example that I find right in front of me each and everyday. Thanks, Matt.