I heard something recently that made me think. It takes a lot to make me think, so this was pretty good. This old guy was talking to my sister about taking care of our bodies, and he said, “Imagine if the government gave everyone a car when they were 16, and this would be the only car you could or would ever own for the rest of your life — wouldn’t you take really good care of it?” The reality hit like a fast train. I only have the one body for the rest of my life. I only have the one life. When the body wears out, I’m done.
My metaphorical car-body would have been my old 1973 copper colored Ford Pinto, and if it were my actual body, I’m pretty sure I’d already be taking the big dirt nap. It’s not that I didn’t take basic care of my old ride, but I don’t think I really took time to appreciate how it carried me through my adolescence. At the time Pintos had a funny habit of combusting when they were rear-ended, and I don’t think I ever sufficiently appreciated that it never sparked into a fireball with me securely strapped into the bucket seat.
If I can beat this metaphor even further, what that guy who was talking about our bodies/cars said fell in line with something else I’ve recently been discovering about how we move through our lives. I have been aware recently that I have been focusing on some pretty stressful realities in my life; namely, the student loan debt I may never pay off before I die, and my new and incredibly noisy neighbors who have more children that most small countries do.
Recently my peace of mind has been turning into pieces of my mind that tumble around incessantly; in the daytime and notably in the ever dwindling hours of my sleep. I have caught myself frequently with my hands clenched, my stomach in knots, and my breathing less like the in-and-out kind of breathing and more like the caught-under-water-in-a-riptide kind of breathing. Which is essentially not. Breathing, I mean.
I had found myself almost talking out loud, scripting a repeating diatribe to my neighbors about the sheer critical mass of screaming, screeching, yelling, and shouting that I seem to hear 24/7 lately whether it is really there or not. I had been waking up in the early hours of the morning tallying up my student loans, calculating payments versus remaining years of fruitful work life and lamenting that I have educated myself into a probable lifelong relationship with someone named Sallie Mae, who apparently has a very limited sense of humor.
Then something happened. Well, before that happened I had a conversation with my sister. She had heard something this other old guy said about no matter what is happening in your life, choosing to feel joy. Now one thing is apparent right off the bat — my sister talks to a lot of old guys who seem to have a lot of wisdom. I’m going to keep listening to things guys tell my sister.
Back to the thing that happened. I was sitting in my backyard last week enjoying a very rare few moments of silence, and I had an epiphany. I was doing my usual lamenting about my neighbors and my student loans and a few other annoyances in my life, and suddenly I thought, “Wait a minute. Bad or good, student loans and noisy neighbors, this is my life. This right here is MY life. So, I can go around feeling sorry for myself and wishing I had someone else’s life, or I can accept the fact that this exact life is mine and be really happy about it. Maybe even feel joy right here within my life. Today.”
I realized that while my house is next to a cacophony of noises, I live in a house, not a refrigerator box, and I am really fortunate for that. My new neighbors aren’t a biker gang setting up a meth lab, although…. no, never mind. My student loan debt means that I have two graduate degrees in a field that I love and that allows me to help other people enjoy their own lives. Kind of ironic, though, if I’m spending most of my time not enjoying my own.
Today is all I know that I have, and if I die tonight it would be a tragedy if I spent my last day on earth not appreciating my life and not celebrating the fact that whatever is going on around me, I am here. I am alive. I am choosing today to feel joyful. I am sitting here on my couch doing something I love to do, writing. My sister is visiting this weekend and is in the kitchen doing an oil painting, which she loves to do. The sun is out. My dogs are growling at the neighbors. My heart is beating. Life is pretty good!
If I keep this up, I might just last a while longer.
Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC is a therapist who specializes in Marriage and Family Therapy in Denver, CO. She provides individual, couples, and family therapy through Maria Droste Counseling Center.