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Stop To Smell The Roses

A great column remniscent of Cinderella's (the band, not the fairy tale) Don't Know What You Got Yil It's Gone. And yes, I just quoted wisdom and philosophy from Cinderella. "I'll quote truth wherever I may find it." (Richard Bach) "And the signs said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls."

Where was I? Oh, yes, reflective wisdom and philosophy. Connie Schultz. This column today made me think about things that I should say.

Trying to remember how happy we are
Monday, September 20, 2004
Connie Schultz

We were in the middle of our usual dinnertime banter with family and friends when the conversation turned to the recent terrorist attack on the Russian school in Beslan.

Hundreds of students and teachers died. Hundreds more were injured. My sister-in-law, Catherine, quoted a woman who had talked to New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers as she rubbed medicine into the burns of her 11-year-old nephew, Azamat Bekoyev.

"We never knew how happy we were," Zalina Basieyava said.

Our dinner table grew quiet.

We never knew how happy we were.

Quite a wallop.

Most of us learn the hard way that the boundaries of sorrow deepen the moment we recall what we failed to cherish. In an instant, we see what we took for granted and, with the startle reflex of a baby, we flail at our newly excavated grief.

How could we not have seen that this was as good as it gets? Why were we always so impatient, so hurried, so eager to set our sights on the other kind of happy we were sure would find us when.

When we made more money.

When the kids were out of diapers.

When we had the perfect whatever-we-don't-have-now: Spouse? House? Car? Career?
I've grown weary of the pat little admonishments to "stop and smell the roses" and "live for the moment." Fine philosophies, but they're too gentle a prod for someone like me.

I'm not proud of this, but sometimes I need to get scared, to shock myself into appreciating my life in the here and now. So I play a little game that I learned from a Buddhist author years ago. I don't remember his name or the book I read, but I have never forgotten his lesson for living right here, right now.

The best way to value what we have, he said, is to imagine we have lost it forever. It's not enough, he said, to pretend that this is your last day on earth. Child's play, that one. So you die tomorrow: People are sad for a while, but life goes on. Your misery, in least in this lifetime, is over.

Instead, imagine that you have just lost what or whom you love the most in this life.

The spouse you yelled at this morning? Gone.

The kid who left her stuff all over the house? Gone.

Your busy schedule you love to complain about? You just lost control of your car and your legs will never work again. No more rushing for you.

I know it sounds maudlin, but it works. And it's my hedge against the grief that comes with no warning and no reprieve. None of us can stop tragedy and pain from visiting our lives, and I, like most adults and too many children, have lived long enough to know the losses that bring you to your knees. I just don't want the anguish over a misspent life to keep me there.

I say that, and still, I need the reminders.

Obligingly, God provides.

One recent morning, I sat on our porch swing after my husband dashed off to work. Thumbing through the day's newspapers he'd left in a rumpled stack, I grew increasingly irritated when I couldn't find one of the front sections I wanted to read.

He knows how I hate that.

I looked across the porch to the empty rocking chair where he sat reading a short time earlier.
The first thing I noticed were his reading glasses. They were turned upside down on the nearby planter, just as he had left them on the half-folded napkin he used during breakfast. The front section I wanted was at the foot of the rocker, turned to the last page he read.

To anyone else, it would have looked like a spot in need of tidying. Nothing more. To me, though, in that moment, it was a reminder of what sudden loss might feel like. "Just this morning, he was sitting there reading the paper," I imagined starting my story of heartbreak. "I didn't know . . ."

I reached for the phone. He had no idea why I was rambling on, but he didn't seem to mind.
And for a moment, I knew exactly how happy we really are.

To reach this Plain Dealer columnist:, 216-999-5087

© 2004 The Plain Dealer


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