The engine of happiness
My father recently turned 82 years old.
He has lived an incredible life. Quite frankly, I marvel at any African American who was born in the 30s or before who is still alive and well. The shifts in society they lived through are hard for me to imagine. The progress they participated in is the privilege I enjoy every day.
He and I were talking this past weekend about how crazy it is that I’m 43 years old, and his grandsons, my sons, are out of my house. We talked about how he retired from the New York City Corrections Department at my current age. After retirement, he started another career in the United States Postal Service.
To get the post office job, he had to learn over 400 schemes of matching mail to cubbies. He worked in the downtown Manhattan clearinghouse, sorting letters and boxes on the night shift for twenty-plus years before retiring from his second career.
Just a few years after retiring from the post office, Dad suffered a brain aneurysm. He survived due to a miraculous set of circumstances, including having access to one of the best neurosurgeons on Earth. It took him years to recover from the aneurysm, but when he did recover, he did so fully.
When you see someone your entire life, sometimes you don’t notice the changes that they are undergoing. The dominant memory of my dad for most of my life was the guy in his 40s and 50s, who was incredibly strong, hard-working and could do pretty much anything. Even having gone through a near-death experience, which I saw mostly as an acute incident, my view of him was still as a powerful man.
That was until the Super Bowl this year.
He and my mom came over our house to watch the game, and as soon as he walked in the door, I saw someone different. He could barely walk on his own. When I got him to the couch, he couldn’t get up without my help. His eyes were sunken in. He had lost about 30 pounds since I last laid eyes on him a month earlier.
I knew that moment I had to take control of his healthcare immediately.
I hired a firm Jumpstart invested in called Life-Links to get all Dad’s medical records from the variety of doctors he had since moving to Nashville eleven years ago. We got him into a new primary care physician who did full diagnostics on him, found that he was anemic, and got him on the road to recovery. Today, nine months later, he is doing so much better thanks to the help of fantastic healthcare practitioners, again.
But on Super Bowl Sunday, my view of my dad changed. I had to acknowledge that he was in a new season of his life, for the first time in my life. The truth is, he had seen many seasons during his life, but this was the first time it clicked for me.
When we got Dad in our house in February on Super Bowl Sunday, and he finally got on the couch and could exhale from the long walk from the car, he sighed. Then he said to me, “Growing old is a bitch.”
He started telling me about the things he used to be able to do on his own that he could no longer do. The list was getting long.
This man grew up in New Bern, North Carolina in the 1930s and 1940s, enlisted in the Army at 17 years old to serve in the Korean War. He lived through Jim Crow, the civil rights era, the assassination of JFK, RFK, and MLK. He experienced marriage and divorce, and remarriage. He retired from two careers. And yet, Dad was experiencing a new challenge that nothing in his past fully prepared him for, loss of his physical agency.
The line keeps moving.
When Dad talks, he speaks from a place of gratitude for his children doing well and him and his wife’s (my mom’s) financially stability. I wonder how someone who experienced so much more hardship than most people in my generation can live with such gratitude.
Perhaps it is because his expectations were not very high from where his starting line.
The finish line keeps moving. The one most of us have in our head is an illusion.
Life only has one finish line, and that’s our last breath. Everything between now and then is a process of showing up, trying our best to live our values and learning. We get better with time, but we aren’t done until we’re DONE. And we’ll never be prepared for everything we will face down the road.
My dad inspires me to love every day as a gift, to love myself today, and not fall into the trap of thinking a single achievement will make me happy. My expectations of crossing “the finish line” are tied to my inevitable suffering. My embrace of the ever-changing life I’ve been gifted is linked to my sense of wonder. And wonder is high-grade fuel for the engine of happiness.
May we find a sense of wonder over and over again.
Have a grateful week.