I was going to write Mary Sickmas, but sometimes an abundance of puns can be off putting if you know what I’m saying. Anyway, Merry Christmas! I am a little late. It’s been a chaotic week, and as I sit here writing this the chaos ensues. My brothers and sister and their significant others are currently on a search for the best Sazerac in New Orleans. (The official Nola Drink) This means that when we all meet up for dinner later everyone should be good and loaded and the meal should go nicely. I wanted to go on the hunt with them but my legs were starting to give up after breakfast so I took the old lady bus home. OK it wasn’t a bus. It was just a car with my 82 year old grandma and my mom, who weren’t in the mood to walk down Bourbon Street in search of alcohol. Maybe by 2012 my mom and I will be well enough for those types of adventures. Maybe even Grandma, too.
This year we did something a little different. Since our humble home can’t house all the DAMN KIDS comfortably and their significant others and my grandma AND Monty, the siblings rented a house on St. Charles Avenue for us all to crash in. It’s a beautiful house, built in the 1800’s with all the modern renovations you find in those interior decorating magazines. It’s nice. The street car passes in front of the dining room window. And every time it does my brother Nick raises his arms in the air and yells “STREEET CARRR!!” Somehow he hasn’t grown tired of doing it yet.
It’s been a really great Christmas mainly because all four siblings are in Nola to celebrate it. But the icing on the cake is that my grandma was able to make the trip down South from Colorado. She’s kind of a hot commodity in the family being that she has six kids, 15 grandkids, and I don’t know how many great-grandkids. I lost count. Her name is Mary too, and she is someone I really look up to for a variety of reasons. Namely, her optimism–which is something increasingly hard to find and at the same time it’s totally contagious. You find yourself smiling more at simple things when you’re with her, or taking note of scenes that typically you’d never stop to consider. If I were going to give her an award, it would be “The Most Pleasant Person on the Planet Award” because that’s what she is. Undoubtedly. On the way to dinner on Christmas Eve I asked what she wanted for Christmas this year. She closed her eyes and thought a moment and then said “Ya know, I can’t think of a thing. I have a perfectly happy life!” And she wasn’t just being sentimental. She says outrageously kind and positive things like this all of the time. I don’t think it strikes her that that type of thinking is rare. She’s always been that way.
I loved her response though. How many times I am asked what I would change about my life, what I want, what I don’t want, and ideas fly out of my mouth like a verbal bulleted list. As though I’d been rehearsing what other life I may want. When asked what people want, whether it be for Christmas or just in life, seldom do people say “I don’t want anything.” And if they do say it, it often means “I definitely want SOMETHING, but I’m going to say I want nothing. But if you get me nothing, there will be Hell to pay!” I’ve been thinking about what being content really means. For so long after getting sick and losing so many things, I’d play over and over what I had lost, what it had cost me, what I wasn’t doing, where I wasn’t going. Like a rolladex of veritable “If only’s” the cycle would start, and that type of thinking is bad news. It’s also really hard to stop. It sortof self-propels itself. More recently I’ve been realizing that the idea of happiness is so much more simple than I pretend. It doesn’t have to be some far off dream. There are plenty of sick people who are happy. Plenty of poor people, plenty of people working mediocre jobs, and plenty of people who have lost in some way who are happy. That says to me: happiness is already available. The question is, are you accessing it? I don’t think this is an easy process. And I think I had to experience the pain and grief of the things I have lost this year. But at some point, the focus has to change, my energy has to change, and inevitably, I will change. Only I can do this, nobody can do it for me.
Sometimes I think the way to handle a big tragedy is the way in which you handle a small tragedy. For instance, when my grandma spilled some of her drink on her shirt at dinner, she said “Oh Fiddle Faddle!” Then she wiped it up, asked for another drink, and continued the conversation. It’s funny that sometimes even small episodes like this can ruin a dinner or a night just as much as locking yourself outside or finding out you have cancer! Obviously the consequence of one is more detrimental than the consequence of the other, and yet the way humans react to things, it’s hard to know sometimes whether someone spilled their drink or someone has died.
Last night as I went to sleep my thoughts took a noticeable shift. For so long I go to sleep thinking how to get better how to get better how to get better because the thinking is that when I am better is when I will be happy. But last night these words occurred to me: How to be sick. If I learn to master being sick, I can find happiness now, I don’t have to wait for it. It doesn’t have to be conditional. Of course I will continue to try to get better, to keep up with everything the doctors say, and make healthy decisions. But I don’t need to rely so heavily on potential change in order for me to start rocking right now. I think my grandma has encouraged this type of thinking, so I am very grateful she was here to spread some of her magic on us and New Orleans this Christmas. That lesson made a great gift.
Health, Happiness, and Merry Sickmas!
**Excuse the Dr. Phil tone of this post. I’ve been watching a lot of Oprah.