After a long trip from Minneapolis, a long session with the Bhagwan, and a long ride in the dark following Melody’s car, we were exhausted when we finally got to the cabin at her dad’s trout pond. We both crashed onto the bed and fell asleep moments later. That’s the last thing I remember till the next morning, when Melody woke me with coffee in hand.
“The old folks from the senior facility will be here soon,” she said, “we should have breakfast before it gets too busy.”
I jumped into the shower, put on some fresh clothes, and noticed the senior citizens’ van was already parked in the lot as I walked to the dining room.
The seniors were all seated inside waiting for their breakfast and Melody was in the kitchen helping her mom, so I sat at the only spot left, at the end of the table.
They remembered and greeted me. Olive, the heavy, retired insurance adjuster got up and hugged me. “How was your trip back east – where was it again?”
“Minneapolis,” I responded; “I visited some new friends I’d met in Sturgis during bike week.”
“Oh, you’ve got to stay out of Sturgis during bike week,” one of the them said. “It’s crazy out there. Bikers drag racing on the streets, semi-naked women parading around, heavy drinking and fights everywhere. Oh I’m telling you, it’s a den of iniquity. You’ve got to stay out of Sturgis during bike week.”
“Have you ever been there during bike week, Floyd?” Olive asked.
“Oh no, I would never go there. I’ve heard all about it and seen it on the news, it’s horrible.”
“I’ll tell you what’s horrible Floyd,” Olive proclaimed, “war, famine, plagues, and tyranny. A bunch of people getting together in a small town to party with the blessings of the town fathers is not terrible, it’s a celebration of life. I wish I’d spent more time doing such things when I was young.”
“My too,” Terry interjected with his Australian accent; “Ay’ve enjoyed bein’ an airline pilot, but I shuld have spent more time partying with the locals in all the places I flew. Ya get it in yer ‘ed that you’re a professional, and ya just forget that down inside, you’re also a kid who still wants to have fun. Then you watch it on TV yers laita and regret wat ya’ve missed.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Floyd responded; “a person could get hurt at those wild parties you know. What if you got beat up, or run over, or sent to jail?”
“What if you get cancer, or a heart attack, or a brain aneurism?” Olive argued. “Anything can happen at any time Floyd, you might as well go out having fun.”
Paul, the retired physics professor, was always slow to speak if he spoke at all, but he felt compelled to announce: “most behavior is driven by fear, self-contempt, or love. The first two result in frustration, but if you live life in pursuit of what you love, you’ll love life, even if it presents challenges you might otherwise want to avoid. To some people, the experience of attending a big party like Sturgis is worth whatever it costs, even if it’s a night in jail for partying too much. Who are we to judge? They’ll certainly have better stories to tell their grandkids than us.”
“Aye mate, that’s the guds-honest truth.”
Melody came out of the kitchen carrying plates of breakfast. “That looks terrific, Melody,” Olive piped up, “That’s why we come here instead of eating at the senior facility. Reconstituted eggs and vegan bacon just don’t taste like this.” Everyone agreed. “That stuff tastes like packing material.”
“Did you tell them about our visit to the Bhagwan last night?” Melody asked me.
“Why don’t you tell them?”
“Just a minute,” she said as she returned to the kitchen to get more plates of food.
“How’d you know I wanted ham and poached eggs?” I asked when she got back.
“That’s what we had left over,” she responded as the seniors snickered. “Perfect, thanks.”
“Well,” she addressed the table, “we went to the Bhagwan’s again last night, and he talked about happiness.” She had the attention of the entire table as she recalled the Bhagwan’s session. That started a table discussion on happiness.
One thing about these seniors, I thought to myself, they’re engaged with life. They are not sitting alone feeling sorry for themselves, or focused on negativity. I remembered a neighbor who did nothing but bitch and moan about everything after he retired: his wife, his family, his car, his friends, his appliances, the news, even the neighbors who seemed to be happy. Come to think of it, he especially complained about them. He was basically a good guy, but I got so tired of his moaning, I avoided him in the end. When I met his estranged son at the funeral, he seemed like a very pleasant, decent man – not at all as he had been portrayed by his father.
When my focus drifted back to the conversation at the table, the seniors were taking turns lamenting the things they’d never done. How’d we get to this, I wondered?
“Look, we’re going around in circles on this subject,” Olive said in her authoritative voice, “so let me tell you a story.”
“Oh good,” Floyd whispered, “Another story.”
“One of my co-workers never seemed happy. This was surprising as she’d worked her way up from an executive assistant to being recently promoted to the Western regional manager of our group of insurance adjusters. She made good money and lived in a nice house with her family, so why did she never smile? I asked her that one day at a conference over dinner. We were sitting on the balcony of a beautiful resort in the woods overlooking a lake. We might have had a few drinks.”
“What, you had a drink?” Someone blurted out. Everyone laughed.
“You’d think she’d be wanting to celebrate her promotion; I would! But she never did. So I asked her, ‘Evelyn, what on earth is it going to take to make you happy?’”
“I have a goal, Olive,” she responded. “I won’t be satisfied till I get promoted to being the first female CFO of this company.”
“Well that’s your problem, Evelyn,” I responded. “You’ve decided you can’t be happy till you reach some distant goal. What if you never reach it? You’ll have spent your life being unhappy for nothing. And you’ll probably spend your retirement bitter that the world didn’t bend to your wishes. Most people who can’t be happy unless the world tilts their way are never happy.”
“Oh, that sounds right,” Floyd mumbled. “I never thought of it that way.”
The table broke up in two- and three-way conversations making it impossible to follow any of them. When the din died down, Paul spoke up.
“Here’s how I see it,” he said. “One person compares where they are now with some ideal, and they are unhappy because they haven’t reached it. Another person compares where they are now with where they used to be, and they are happy for the progress they’ve made. These two people may be in exactly the same position in life, yet one is happy and one isn’t.”
“Good point Paul,” Olive piped up, “No matter how good life gets for them, people who are always chasing the horizon will never be satisfied. It’s the people who are grateful for where they are now, how much they’ve learned, and for the support they’ve received along the way who are happy.”
“Exactly, Olive, the difference is that happy people possess an attitude of gratitude,” Paul responded, “and vice versa.”
The same is true of those who get upset by watching the news,” Olive rejoined. “They compare life today with some political ideal, and they get distressed because we aren’t there yet. But if they compared life today with that of their ancestors, they’d be happy for how far things have progressed.”
“Bloody right, mate!” Terry added; “it’s all in ‘ow ya look at leyfe.”
Melody turned my way and whispered, “Isn’t that pretty much what the Bhagwan said?”
I smiled and nodded in agreement.
Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/MART PRODUCTION.