Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Best Day

It was still early morning when he stood in the middle of the room, at five years old, clenched his small fists close to his chest and declared, "This is the best day ever!"  He then spun out like a top and went on to fulfill his prophecy.  What makes a day "the best day ever?" 

For Jack, on this day, it was quite simple.  It was skipping stones, family and the most fun uncle, new places to explore, playing in the lake until your skin had a blue tint and the shaking of your limps on exit was almost seizure-like.  It was food, ice cream, and cookies.  It was running, swimming, and being free to just have fun. It was creating the dream of how you would one day swim across the lake.  It was being five.  It was simplicity.

While sitting back, admiring the simplicity of it - I had to wonder.  What was my best day ever?  I considered all of the big ones: graduation, wedding, birth of first child, birth of second child, a trip, summer days on the lake.  None would classify as the best day ever.

I kept coming back to one day that requires just a bit of background.  My family was of limited means.  We were an Irish Catholic family in the late fifties or early sixties (I wish I could remember the actual year).  My Dad worked 9 - 5 as a wholesale food salesman for a national brand.  To subsidize this income so that Mom stayed at home with the kids (didn't most?), Dad worked a second job as a meat counter guy on evenings and on Saturday.  When we did see Dad in the evenings - the man was tired.  There were many nights with Dad asleep in his chair.  I don't remember a lot of fun in those days.  There were responsibilities of school, church, chores, etc.  We were clean, warm, and most of the basics were covered.  We were loved.

Yes, I'm getting to it.  The best day ever was a Saturday.  It was the Saturday when we rose to find Dad sitting at the kitchen table.  He had quit the second job, he would be spending Saturdays with us.  We were going to spend this first Saturday as a family, picnicking in Ellison Park.  That's right - the McCarthy's were going to have a fun Saturday in the park.  I remember perfect weather and no other specifics.  I remember running and playing all day.  I remember feeling free, feeling unencumbered, laughing, and being with just my family. This day was like no other our family had experienced.  In the memories of the best day ever, I remember no tension, no chores, no responsibilities, no cross words - just fun, sunshine, and happiness.

The commonalities of Jack's best day and my best day are evident.  Family, fun, freedom, and a rush of joy.  But I wonder - must "best days ever" be experienced at an early age?  Is it possible to attain that high as an adult?  Are adults capable of accepting the joy with only a positive outlook, as a child does?  Can adults experience a joy-filled day as just what it is?  Make an effort to accept things as they are, don't search for the hidden ulterior motive or the hidden meaning of actions.  Focus on the good, the positivity, the possibilities.  It is what it is; move on.

I leave you with an English translation of Matsuo Basho's haiku:
The old pond,
A frog jumps in:
Plop!

It is what it is.  Maybe (who knows?) - the best day ever!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Feel the ouch in your heart

Circumstance would have it - we had the daughter and grand kids for dinner on a Monday night.  It's rare to have them fresh from their school day and at 7 and almost 5 years old - their interpretation of some of the days' lessons were priceless.

The most significant happening in first grade was a lesson on worms, complete with the experience of touching the worms, only if you were brave enough. 
Were they cold?   No, they're earth worms so they were warm.
Were they rubbery?  N-o-o-o-o-o
Were they smooth?  Yes, they were smooth, unless they were bumpy.
Were they wiggly?  Not our worms ( I bet)

Also in first grade - a story about peanut butter and jelly was shared with a friend.  One passage referenced "pea nuts and butt er."  This delivery was accompanied by the requisite giggles.  It seems the first grade girls decided this was all about body parts.  We tried to say we thought she was over-analyzing, but - we were wrong.  More giggles on the way out the door.

The five year old is soon leaving a Christian pre-school to go to kindergarten.  He's ready but tonight he was clearly carrying a heavy load.  The question posed at dinner "If Jesus is in our hearts, how can he be in Emma's heart, Mommy's heart, my heart?  He's just a little baby."  As he asked the question, his arms were motioning and he was clearly feeling both passion and frustration.  The daughter and I caught eyes and as we struggled to answer at a 5 yr. old level; he went on.  He made a little fist pressed up against his chest and said "He's just a little baby and he's in all of our hearts.  Why can't we hear him saying 'ouch'?  It has to hurt him."

With that, I heard my heart say ouch.