Thursday, September 13, 2012

The People Placed in our Paths

The People Placed in Our Paths

As I have grown older, (and debatably, wiser?), I have become aware of an underlying mental construct that has failed to serve me:  the belief that happiness is a place, or a destination.  For example, thoughts like “Once I have this degree, I’ll feel content,” or “Once I own my own home, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy my life,” serve only to cause anxiety and an uncomfortable restlessness; the feeling that you are not where you are supposed to be. 

Being aware of this faulty worldview leads me to consider an alternative:  that happiness and contentment rely not on the achievement of a certain thing, status, salary, education level, etc., but instead we find our ultimate groove as we continue along a path that has no destination.  Yes, we may have goals, dreams, and intentions, and reaching these certainly lends momentary joys.  However, deep contentment may lie in the appreciation of mundane, everyday things and experiences.  If we look for the richness that exists in every experience, true gratitude grows. 

I have also come to believe that the people placed in our paths serve as bringers or messages, peace, lessons, reminders to be grateful, and offer us the chance to do the same.  We can act or not act, we can speak or not speak, we can choose to interweave the fabrics of our beings with others each day.  Take yesterday for example. 

Yesterday started off pretty rough.  I had an awful night of interrupted sleep, and woke up feeling extremely run down.  I spritzed myself with rescue remedy and decided to listen to my gut for once, instead of forcing myself to participate in our usual morning activities.  So, we stayed home.  We watched too much television.  We played garbage trucks.  After a short nap, I felt a little better and with renewed vigor, I determined that we needed some fresh air. 

I felt a rush of energy the moment we arrived at the Royal Palms playground.  It’s a real gem of a place, nestled on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Salty sea air and pelicans have a way of invigorating any tired spirit.  A few moments later, a woman and her five-year old son arrived.  I said hello to her, but she seemed guarded, pensive even.  I chalked her reticence up to being shy or unsocial.  Her son Paul, on the other hand, was a bundle of joyful energy.  He engaged us in conversation.  After about twenty minutes, his mother, Carla approached me. 

“Is he your only one?”  She said softly, watching Jackson as he chased her son.

“Yes,”  I replied.  For some reason, I knew not to ask the same question of her.  Instead, she volunteered the information.  She told me everything.

Carla’s daughter had been born with Trisomy 18.  They detected it a three months gestation, but she continued her pregnancy.  The family lived in the hospital for two months after the little girl was born.  Carla learned to do things she never thought she would have to do for her child:  use a g-tube to feed her, use an oxygen machine to help her breathe…and then, quite suddenly, her daughter passed away.  Her child became an angel baby a mere two weeks ago.  

How this woman was not an incoherent mass of grief was beyond me.  I was in shock.  I gave her a hug.  I told her some of my story, but it felt lame in comparison.  So much to be grateful for, I thought for the umpteenth time.  Her next words were surprising. 

“I never regretted having her.  We loved her so much.  My son loved having a sister.  We took her places, we enjoyed her.  We enjoyed every second.”

I was stunned.  She didn't mention feeling cheated or depressed.  She didn't talk about how hard it was to watch her daughter succumb to her condition.  No, she spoke of her time with her daughter with a smile on her face.  Talk about only taking the sunny hours.  This unassuming young woman had been through so much and still, she spoke about her tragedy without a tear.  She related what had happened with a hint of wistfulness for what might have been, but without the intense grief I could only imagine she felt.

It was then that I noticed her son was shivering.  The fog was rolling in and it was getting cold.  Carla had goose bumps.  I asked where they lived and discovered that they were stranded here, at this playground, waiting for their ride.  Luckily, I had some spare jackets in the car for them to wear.  The little boy told me he was hungry, and I was pleased to find a bag of goldfish crackers in the backseat.  Being able to help these people find a bit of physical comfort instilled a euphoria inside my heart that I cannot describe.  Carla’s phone had no reception, so I loaned her mine.  I offered to give them a ride to a coffee shop, but her ride came at last.  We exchanged hugs but not numbers.  All I know is that a woman named Carla lost her six-month old daughter last week, and that she is a hairdresser.  And she is one of the strongest mothers I have ever met.

I know that this person was placed in my path for a reason.  I could have stayed to myself, I could have been closed to what she had to teach me.  But, I allowed the connection to occur, and it was beautiful.  Happiness is a path, not a place.  The endless looking ahead makes us forget that all we ever need is right here.  Looking for richness in everyday experiences can be difficult at first.  Yesterday, I chose to listen to a stranger's story and help relieve their discomfort in whatever small way that I could.  A bag of goldfish and a few jackets thrown in the back of my car were the last things I expected to bring me inner peace.  But they did.

Who has been placed in your path?  How has your life been enriched by random encounters with strangers, animals, or something else?  I want to know. 

For more on Trisomy 18, check out the link below:
Trisomy 18

No comments:

Post a Comment