Sometime Around 2 A.M.

By Mark E. Smith

I don’t know what time it is? I guess it’s sometime around 2 a.m. It was mere weeks ago that I could simply roll over or sit up and look at the clock. Not anymore.

I awake several times per night like this now, in pain from not being able to roll or shift positions myself. I lay awake until the pain is unbearable, then I wake my wife. Sweetie, can you please roll me over?

Age, disability, illness and surgery has all taken its toll – and much of my physical abilities and health with it.
I suppose I should be devastated, even bitter toward it all. I’ve had to live with cerebral palsy my whole life, now this – how can life be so cruel?

Yet, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I feel the opposite – blessed. No, I don’t want any of this, not the debilitating illness or chronic pain or loss of abilities. But, it’s not my call. It’s aging and illness and life at play. Resenting it all wouldn’t change anything other than adding a self-defeating tail spin to my life. Acceptance is liberating.

My wife is right next to me, touching me, side-by-side. We have a king-size bed, and she insists that I somehow end up on her side no matter what. Yet, in reality, I don’t think she’d want it any other way – close, touching, reassuring, especially now, for the both of us.

Life is about change, and questioning it or resenting it over the long run only defeats us. I’m not saying taking time to acknowledge loss or express our feelings toward adverse changes isn’t normal or healthy – absolutely it is. However, there has to be an expiration date for it, or it will consume our lives more adversely than the actual changes.

I’m to the point where my pain is unbearable and I need my wife’s help rolling over. I gently awaken her, and she softly rolls me over, asking in the darkness if I need anything else?

I answer, no. My answer applies to both the immediate and my life in whole. In the silence of the night, I think about my wife and our daughters and the blessed life I have – and I recognize that I’ve never had more.

Windless and Still

By Mark E. Smith

Life can be brutal – dehumanizing at its worst, where some of us lose so much at points, we feel that all we are is flesh and bones.

Yet, we push through it – most of us, anyway. Not all. We scrape the depths of our souls for whatever is left, and that marrow revitalizes us enough to start a comeback, following some path, yet to be totally revealed, that we hope will lead us out. It’s never linear, though, is it? We still find glimpses of hope veiled by dark patches. But, we reach and claw, and keep finding our way out.

How long does it take, we ask. Each of our journeys is different, in scale and in time. Months for some. Years for others. A lifetime for a few of us.

I think about this in bed on an August morning at the shore. My wife and youngest daughter are still asleep. I guess it’s around 7:30 am based on the last time I rolled over to check the alarm clock. No shower today. I have no desire for one.

Our daughter stirs, chirping, as we call it when she sings herself awake. I both revel in her adorable character and envy her. I often awake happy, with a tune in my head, but we adults are conditioned not to let it out. Kids are the fortunate ones – free of so many smothering social norms that would bring so much joy if we, too, could just let it out.

We all eventually get up and my wife asks me what shirt I want to wear? We banter about my insistence of a white, spread collar button down. She notes that it’s too wrinkled. I explain that it’s fine for my plans. I’m just going to park myself on the beach. Other events may transpire before or after, but I’m not concerned. A wrinkled, white button down will do. I slip it on, buttoned, over my head. As it slides down my torso, it feels crisp, cool, flowing, perfect.

I roll into the bathroom and turn on the sink’s faucet. I wet my hair with my hands, noting the grey. I run a brush through it several times and I’m good to go for the day.

A white shirt and combed hair were my only concerns, and they’re behind me. I roll over and look out our window to the beach, windless and still. And, I, too, am at total peace starting this day.

“Who’s ready for the beach?” I ask my wife and daughter.

The room is silent. We all know it’s a rhetorical question.

Sinking Ships Save Lives

By Mark E. Smith

I was at my boat dealership readying my boat for its summer launch, when I heard a commotion. It was a guy yelling about some issue with his $90,000 boat, dry-docked next to his Range Rover, with his blond, breast-implanted wife and couple of kids standing beside him. As I tuned in to his yelling, he was furious that the cabin on his boat hadn’t been vacuumed, part of the dealership’s summer launch package. And, as I waxed my boat, I thought, Oh joy – another A-hole who has no clue as to how blessed he is. I should go punch him in the face, and teach him a bit about appreciating life via a broken nose.

Now, there’s a good bet that a tool like him is in debt up to his ears. Still, life has to be a piece of cake when you have luxuries like a sport cruiser, high-end SUV, and breast implants. But, most importantly, everyone in his family seemed strikingly healthy – the biggest blessing of all. Yet, Mr. Tool seemed oblivious to all of it, where apparently his life is so easy – read that, so lacking of appreciation – that his only concern is screaming at a 19-year-old, who makes $8 an hour working his ass off – about his boat not being vacuumed. Again, I say that we tattoo A-hole on Mr. Tool’s forehead just to forewarn everyone he encounters.

Yet, Mr. Tool isn’t unique. We run into people everyday who have zero appreciation for all that’s in their lives. I was in line at Wal-Mart, and heard the clerk ask each person in front of me how he or she was? Each person had something negative to say, whining about this or that. I thought to myself, You’re healthy enough to to be shopping, with enough money to pay for groceries – life is great, so quit your complaining.

So, when I got to the check-out, I asked the clerk if anyone ever gave her an enthusiastic, positive response? Her answer, “Never – you’d be amazed at how miserable people are.”

No I wouldn’t. I know countless people with everything to be thankful for; yet, they make themselves miserable based on a looming lack of appreciation. People with committed marriages are miserable. People with great jobs are miserable. People with supportive families are miserable. People in great health are miserable. In plain terms, people who are blessed beyond belief will tell you how terrible their lives are – and I find it a repugnant mindset.

All of this led me to the question of, Why are people who are so fortunate so miserable and ungrateful?

It turns out that there’s a scientific basis for misery and a lack of appreciation by those who are truly blessed with love, success, and financial security. An article in the August 2010 issue of Psychological Science demonstrates that while the various forms of success in our lives can elevate us by class, status, and wealth, it simultaneously can impair our ability to enjoy or appreciate life, itself. It turns out that when we experience the success that life has to offer, it can numb us toward savoring the seemingly smaller – but ultimately important – parts of life, like being grateful for life, itself. As the study describes, it’s not unlike that “new car feeling,” where most appreciate a new car for a few weeks, but then lose gratitude toward it. Mr. Tool being pissed about his boat is merely emblematic that he’s lost the ability to realize how blessed he is in the most important ways, as with having a loving wife and two healthy kids. He’s allowed himself to lose humility and perspective by being blinded by good fortune.

The key, then, for all of us is to maintain a sense of perspective on our lives. Using myself as an example, I enjoy the material things I’ve earned – and feel blessed to have them, genuinely appreciating aspects like my career, house, boat, and van. However, truly, if I lost everything I have, I’d still be fulfilled as long as those close to me were healthy and happy, with my daughter being number one. You can fire me; burn down my house down; sink my boat; and, crash my van. Heck, give me a horrible disease in addition to my cerebral palsy. But, as long as my daughter is healthy and happy, I have no right to complain about anything, ever.

And, that’s what we all need to do at this moment: Remind ourselves of how blessed we are at the core levels of our lives, and approach the rest of life with a genuine sense of gratitude, right down to just being thrilled to be in line at Wal-Mart with a bunch of miserable people.