I’m embarrassed to say that I’m just now learning this. I wish I would’ve learned it in my 30’s, when most people do, but when it comes to being un-miserable, I’m a slow study.
I’ve spent most of my life believing that my situation(s) determine(s) my ability to be happy – the right job, a great marriage, money, etc, and I’ve had several careers as a result. I’ve had some fun moments and learned a ton of things that haven’t really helped in my latest career – stay at home dad. But there’s always been this nagging compulsion to change everything as soon as I start feeling bad about my life. Feeling like I can’t be happy until things change has always made me unhappy, especially when I can’t change things.
My thinking about all of this took a hit in my late 40’s when I was assaulted in a men’s airport restroom.
I left my wife at the gate with 3 crazy kids and hurried off to the bathroom hoping to be back in time to board. This particular facility was attended by an older (soon-to-be elderly) man of Middle Eastern descent.
I’ve got some pictures in my head of what retirement will look like. At worst I’ll be handing out carts at WalMart by day, living in a retirement community that surrounds a golf course in Florida, sipping Grand Marnier and smoking house-rolled cigars in the evening while watching Lost re-runs. Bathroom attendant? Not on the table.
This guy said nothing and everything to me. He had an air of respect and dignity about him as he looked me in the eye and said “have a nice day” as I was leaving. I turned around and put some money in his tip jar. His counter was perfectly arranged – combs, towels, cologne, some other things.
He seemed happy – working in an airport restroom – all. day. long. Funny how we can sense when someone’s happy. Like dogs smell fear, people smell peace. This guy had it in spades – you couldn’t get past him without getting it all over you.
I’ve been a pastor, pilot, restaurant manager, banker, and now I have 5 hours five days a week to kick back while my kids are at school and my wife goes off to support us all financially. He’s happy and I’m not? Something’s missing – he’s got something I don’t have. If it’s within his grasp it must be within mine.
In that moment I decided to start looking around at the things that are going well, the things I should be thankful for. As I did I began to realize that expecting-things-to-change-before-I-can-be-happy is a truly miserable way to live. The more I flex this muscle the more I’m able to be happy even when things aren’t going well. When the kids are crazy, when my wife and I are fighting, when I screw up and everyone’s talking about it, when I walk out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis for arthritis – when my life seems like an endless day in a restroom, I can still be thankful, and at peace.
I’m new to this and sometimes not very good at it. But I’m slowly learning that, somehow every day, I have everything I need to be at peace. The only thing that needs to change is my attitude.
So, thank you nameless guy who’s face I’ll never forget. Our 20 second encounter, and the way you’re living your life has incited me to change mine – to get rid of some caustic attitudes, to open my eyes about what’s truly good and beautiful. You slapped me in the face with your peace, your self-dignity, and your respect, and got some on me. Didn’t see that one coming.