About a week ago, I put this picture on Instagram. The caption is simple: Choose the joy. That is what my mom always said. This picture was taken while I was laughing with a dear friend as we sat across the table from a man dying from a horrible cancer with a terrible prognosis. And yet, he was happy and at peace. He reminded me of my mom. Even when she was sick beyond measure, even when I would find her on the floor unable to make it to the bed, she never felt sorry for herself. She never stopped smiling or laughing. She will always be the bravest person I know.
I am convinced that she tried chemo to help me and my family get used to the idea that she was closer to death than we understood. Had she to do it all over again that gift of time for us would not be repeated.
Tonight one of her dearest friends, Pam, called to tell me an incredible story that was told to her on or about the day of my “Choose the joy” Instagram post. Pam told me that her former secretary told her this:
“A long time, gosh probably 1998/1999ish, when I was the Counselor’s secretary at MC High School, Art Hinds stopped by to check on all of the counselors. While I didn’t know her that well, something she said made such a huge impact on me. Someone had commented to her that she was always happy and smiling. ‘Well, it’s a choice, right? Choosing joy is a choice. I choose to be happy.’ I cannot tell you how many times when things have been hard in this life for me, that I have reflected back upon her comment about choosing joy. It is a way of life I passionately abide by.”
As Pam recanted this story, she told me of the struggles of this young woman, of her severely disabled child, and how people often ask her how she is so happy. The words of my mom live inside of her. She chooses the joy.
I, too, attempt to choose joy every day as I learn that people around me are angry with a decision that I have made or when I have trouble with walking or when I am too tired to get out of bed. I try to remember finding my mother sick and unable to make it back to the bed, still willing to give me her love and a smile.
Art Hinds is THE reason that I am able to do what I do. She is THE reason that everyday before I rise I make a gratitude list and choose to have a good day. She is THE reason that I am helpful when I don’t want to be or that I listen when I think I know what is going to be said. She taught me how to live.
She chose the joy after my father died, and she never looked back. Even though she wore her wedding ring as a widow for 37 years, she continued to choose the joy. She is my heroine.
I do not win every day. Perhaps, not even half of the days. I do find myself falling victim to being angry, resentful, and sad from time to time. Choosing joy is hard work. It might be as hard as being angry. But if I am going to do the work, use the energy, then I may as well choose the joy.
A few days ago, I forgot that my mom died. I felt like someone hit me in the back with a baseball bat. I thought I would fall to the ground in a pile of grief, completely overwhelmed, angry, confused. And then I asked myself what would I tell someone else to do in a similar situation. What would Art Hinds say? So, I immediately started telling myself ‘I have a loving boyfriend, two sweet dogs, a home to go to, heat for that home, a car, gas to put in that car, a job, food in my kitchen, running water, a bed …’ And the list goes on. I tell my children at work if you focus on what you don’t have then you will always be unhappy, but if you focus on what you do have you will find the joy. And so I did, if even for a moment. I hope you do too.