Finding a reason to smile

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Monday, November 19

You know how you can have a super high fever or the stomach flu and are so miserable you vow to never again take for granted the pure joy of just getting to feel okay? Then the next day, in the hustle and hassle of everyday life, the first thing you do is forget about all that gratitude and you keep forgetting how blessedly wonderful it is to just feel okay until the next time you suffer again, at which point you renew your vow of gratitude.

Some things just wake us up, like that and like when someone comes along who has suffered such an enormous loss, it brings us right back to the amazement of how everything—in the big scheme of things—is more or less blessedly okay in our world, or maybe at least okay in that moment.

That “waking up” is even more jolting when this person who has survived such an overwhelming loss comes through their experience stronger, with double the conviction that there are reasons to smile. Then, it’s like we get the gift of being woken up, which always feels so enlivening, and we get the gift of something that feels very much like enlightenment. That happened a few weeks ago when a subscriber to the Wellness Tip-of-the-Month Club wrote back in response to a voting poll question. The question was: “Would you still prefer to live through the days that are ho-hum and drudgery-filled, or would you opt-out of the drudgery and sign up for just the good-and-exciting-albeit-fewer-day plan?”

Monday, October 1 was the day that question went out, which happened to be the twenty-second birthday of the daughter Robyn Tarantino lost 20 years ago in a drowning accident. The idea of getting out of living any day–even the truly awful ones–resonated with Robyn in so many ways. For one, life is life and life is precious. For another, Robyn fervently believes that our bad experiences are exactly what give our good ones meaning and heighten our sense of gratitude and appreciation for all that is wonderful. As for the drudgery, Robyn welcomes every day because the very fact that we exist is exciting, feeding her sense that something much bigger is going on beyond any momentary, personal humdrummery if we “allow the infinite to permeate our awareness,” a line that so captured my imagination I printed it out and posted it on my wall.

While there are two days in the year that are much harder for Robyn to live these truths –her daughter’s birthday and the anniversary of her death–Robyn is steadfast in her conviction that life is good.
Then after sharing Robyn’s experience with Tip subscribers, in that wonderful way that doors get opened, Danielle Jenkins wrote in to say that she, too, had lost a daughter 20 years ago when her child was three, just two days before Robyn’s daughter died. At the time, a fellow griever had said to her that every day you have the choice to live or to exist. The point being that we are here and the question becomes, “How do you want here to be?” It planted with Danielle and though there are some days she just exists, most days Danielle lives life to the fullest with a bottom-line determination to go with the good so that the good days far outweigh the bad.

I’ve always thought there is a knowing that comes with the hard stuff, making people like Robyn and Danielle messengers of sorts.

So, here’s what Robyn knows: “Every new day brings new potential for joy and exultance! I just have to be open to it, so that I recognize it when it comes.”

And here’s what Danielle knows: Going with the good comes down to something very simple. “I will always find a reason to smile.”

Robyn and Danielle, thank you for helping us stay awake and reminding us there are always reasons to smile.