A couple of days ago marked the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Highlands High School outside of Sacramento. A few days later I began my radio career.
50 years. It’s a stunning number. And that was quite a week, as I recall.
June 10, 1969 was a Tuesday. School was out and for some three or four hundred of us assembled in the football stadium the entire world of opportunities was laid at our feet.
I gave one of the two student commencement speeches that day. I waxed eloquently and metaphorically about those opportunities and warned my classmates, “You must be quick to grab the world by the tail (dramatic pause)…or be left holding the shattered fragments of a Crystal Dream.”
Our parents and teachers applauded my youthful wisdom. My classmates drank from hidden flasks, fired off a couple of illegal bottle rockets and laughed like hell.
One guy in the front row flashed me his junk under his graduation robe.
I said goodbye to my childhood that day with a handful of close friends who are still close and the girl who would become my wife.
Then 50 years slipped away.
In our fascination with big, round numbers we look back on our lives and try to find meaning in the journey. We measure ourselves, comparing then and now.
I’ve been anticipating this big round number for quite awhile and now that it has arrived I’m surprised to learn that it’s not that big a deal except for two things:
I had a nice, short conversation with a man named Jaime this morning. He’s one of those people you see at work nearly every day, but if you work in a building with a lot of large companies as we do you tend to just nod and smile as you pass in the hall. You rarely say anything more than just, “Good morning.”
Jaime and I nod and smile in the men’s room pretty much every day because that’s his office. He’s the janitor and doesn’t mind being called that. I know because I asked him.
I guess Jaime’s work schedule pretty much stays the same every day because my schedule stays the same. We usually meet during the 7 a.m. network news.
After nodding and smiling and saying “Good morning” to Jaime every morning I finally asked him his name a couple of weeks ago. He told me, I gave him mine and then we both smiled and went on about our business. He was cleaning toilets and I was about to use the urinal. Guys don’t shake hands in men’s rooms.
This morning I saw Jaime again and the fact that we had swapped names made me feel like I could talk with him for a moment, so I did.
“Jaime, how are you?” I began.
“Good. How are you doing?” he replied.
I told Jaime I was fine, thank you, and then I told him I’ve noticed him because he’s always smiling and seems happy. He told me he is happy and he seemed amused by the fact that we were talking. After all, I was his “customer” in a manner of speaking.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys cleaning restrooms,” I said, “but you’re the only one who always seems to be smiling,” I explained.
This is probably TMI as we say these days, but this part of our conversation actually happened while I was facing the wall tending to business. Jaime was wiping down the counter and sinks. My point being we weren’t actually making eye contact just yet.
When I was able to address him face-to-face I said something like, “I just wanted you to know I see you every morning and you seem happy.”
“Yes,” he said, surprised but pleased. “I’m a happy person.”
I said, “It shows and that’s unusual. I like that.”
As a native Californian instigating conversation with a stranger is nearly unthinkable but I’ve been in Texas for seven years now and it’s fun.
Jaime beamed and thanked me. Then he felt bold enough to brag a little.
“I’m just happy,” he told me. “I have a nice family and friends and I have a job. Why not be happy?”
He seemed very proud of his job and his happy life. I think he was also glad that I had talked with him.
Jaime made my day and I think I made his.
PS. Three weeks after I wrote this it has suddenly occurred to me that the phrase, “Pleasantries in the men’s room” could be seriously misinterpreted and is no proper title for anything proper. I could change it but I see no point, really. If the headline offended you — or was misleading in a disappointing way, I apologize. — DW 5-8-19
I’ve been thinking about happiness lately. I believe we all need to check in with ourselves every so often and ask how we’re doing.
Are you happy?
The answer tends to move around a bit. We respond with shifting qualifications:
“Yes, I’m mostly happy but…”
Most people aren’t being fair with themselves. Happiness, like life itself, ebbs and flows. This moment has nothing to do with yesterday or last year when you were promoted. Right now is completely detached from your divorce or that time you were fired from a job.
Dump your baggage. Nobody is forcing you to carry it.
We’ve heard it so many times we shrug it off as philosophical fluff but I’m here to tell you, it’s true:
You really are as happy as you decide to be.
My mother impressed this on me when I was a young child. I can hear her now as plainly and lovingly as when she said it sixty years ago:
“This can be a good day or a bad day,” she said. “It’s up to you.”
Mom inoculated me from life’s disappointments and tragedies. Oddly, it took 50+ years before it became a conscious realization that I could make my daily affirmation.
I’m not always happy, nobody is. That’s the beauty of it, the ebb and flow of our lives. You can’t fully experience joy or misery without knowing the other.
So many people these days seem to crave sympathy for life’s ordinary challenges like having to do things they don’t want to do or simply waking up in the morning.
I wake up groggy and tired like everyone else but I’m thankful for waking up. I force myself to embrace each new day.
Decide to be happy.
I know that’s sappy (rhyme not intended but unavoidable) but the mere fact that you find so much in ordinary everyday life to whine about is a self-imposed disregard for one immutable fact:
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I wanted very much for this post to be inspirational, not preachy. I may have failed in that. But since we’re nearing the end, let me add one more idea about happiness that you can consider for yourself in your own good time:
Is griping useful? No. Is happiness infectious? Absolutely.
For your own sake and for those of us who have to deal with you and want to like you, choose happiness.
Dennis Prager often says we have a responsibility to others to be happy. I agree. To put it more bluntly:
Nobody wants to hear you whine. We all have problems. Smile and stop being a pain in the ass.
This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s up to you.
She must have been about ten, maybe a little younger. Holding her daddy’s hand she walked solemnly down Main Street next to me, surrounded by hundreds of other people, all headed toward the exit.
Bright colors fired both sides of the street; joyous music came from nowhere and yet everywhere. Imagineered snow flakes floated in the air all around us.
We all wore silly grins for no reason at all except that we were together, ageless and happy.
The little girl’s daddy leaned over and said, “Isn’t it pretty? It looks just like real snow, doesn’t it?”
Her reply was succinct, matter-of-fact and grown up:
“I think I’ve had enough.”
“The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together — that’s what we hope to do.” – Walt Disney
CarolAnn and I celebrated our 30th anniversary at Disney World in Orlando this past week. For all the technological magic and excitement we found everywhere we looked our greatest pleasure was watching young families and remembering our own.
The small moments that bring families closer together work their magic on everyone nearby. We love being collateral beneficiaries of joy and sharing with each other the children we still are at heart.
“A dream is a wish your heart makes…”
Hang the expense, it’s worth every penny and more.
In Texas fall teases you like a puppy. It yaps at you, snaps playfully at your fingers and then darts away to plan another surprise attack.
I wore a sweatshirt last week. Today it will be 80. Tomorrow could bring snow. It’s the wonder of Texas weather that I love because I don’t like predictability.
Life itself is unpredictable and that’s how it should be, even and maybe especially life’s tragedies.
A man arises before dawn, showers, shaves, kisses his slumbering wife and kids goodbye and then he leaves home and dies.
I don’t mean to be morose. It’s just the unpredictable nature of life.
On my early morning radio news shows I’ve told these stories daily for decades. We get used to them, both in the telling and the hearing because the stories are framed in frigid cop talk, in matter-of-fact terms detached from emotion and personal reality.
“Dallas police responded to a fatal head-on crash early this morning. Officials say a wrong-way driver slammed into a late model Toyota southbound on I-75 near Walnut Hill. The driver of the Toyota died at the scene.
We don’t even learn his name.
Let’s see how that’s affecting traffic: live with Traffic on the Fives, here’s Bill Jackson…”
Bill explains that emergency vehicles have the wreck confined to the divider with officers directing a ten minute slowdown into the right two lanes.
“Meanwhile, inbound on the Dallas North Tollway there’s a slowdown at Northwest Highway…”
The Toyota driver’s wife and kids are still sleeping as a hundred thousand commuters deal with a traffic jam.
The family will probably be wolfing down breakfast on hurried schedules when the knock comes at the door.
But, I digress. I was talking about unpredictable fall weather and the unexpected turns in our daily lives.
Most people seem to live their lives focused on annoyance, oblivious to the small joys of the moment. We worry about trivial things and bitch about each day for trivial reasons.
We wish it was summer, we wish it was Friday.
We wish away the unpredictably wonderful moments of our lives.
We’re constantly told to live for today, in the here and now, and to stop and smell the roses. I don’t know anyone who has figured out how to do that but I’m working on it.
I thank God each morning for another day of life.
I don’t wonder if He exists. I’m just happy to be grateful.
Before I go to sleep at night I conjure images of my wife and children, my grandchildren, the friends I’ve made and the handful of very special people I’ve known and loved in my life. I give thanks for them all. Then I drift off to sleep without a care in the world.
Tomorrow will be another unpredictable day and though the possibilities include everything, glorious and tragic, I’m looking forward to it.
I’m going outside to mow the lawn now. It might snow tomorrow or I could die tonight.
This is the only picture I have of my entire family together. (I’m not in it because I was holding the camera.)
I’d like to say my family always looked this happy but that wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be true of any family. Old photos allow us to keep and embellish the good times when everyone was smiling because we were all really happy together, at least in that moment.
My old pictures invoke a nice warm feeling of a time when life was less complicated and when my family was together for everything including mealtimes at the table, visits with our relatives and family vacations.
This was our family vacation in McCann, Northern California, along the Eel River in August of 1964. We were there for a week which included my 13th birthday. My parents gave me a stamp collecting album and a wonderful variety pack of international postage stamps to study, sort and paste.
I also got a new, official National League baseball which my dad and I tossed back and forth for hours that week right in the middle of the dirt road outside our cabin’s front door.
McCann was already a ghost town when we were there.
It was smack dab in the middle of no place, Humboldt County. It had been a stage coach station in 1881 and a post office soon after. It tried to be a town but stumbled and failed in the thirties and forties. By the time we got there in ’64 there were no living businesses, just the dirty old windows of store fronts that had been abandoned decades earlier.
As I remember it we were there for an entire week without seeing another soul. The only traffic we saw and heard were the Northwestern Pacific freight trains that rumbled and shrieked just a few feet past our cabin in the middle of each night. When that happened we all woke up and giggled in the dark, not just us kids, our parents too.
We had no TV in that cabin and couldn’t even get a radio signal. I know because I tried. Instead we just played together. We hiked down a steep river bank to get to the water’s edge. I held my little brother’s hand as we waded into the Eel. I held onto the blowup raft with my little sister aboard and grinning from ear to ear.
Dad and I fished with salmon eggs for bait and I saw beavers playing in the water not far from the lodge they had built from the branches of young fir and redwood trees along the shore.
My mom burned my birthday cake trying to bake it in an ancient wood burning oven in the cabin. It was edible, just toasty, and I loved it because it was mine and Mom made it for me.
On my birthday I wrote a note to the future, shoved it into an empty tin can and stuck it deep inside a hollowed chunk of a tree that was still very much alive. I imagined that the tree would grow over that hole and preserve my message. Someday, I thought, someone would cut that tree down and find my hello from the past.
Wouldn’t it be something if it was found now, in the 21st century?
I remember all of that from one picture taken 55 years ago. I probably have a lot of it wrong. I just remember it as I wish to.
I’d like you both to know that though I don’t get to be with you very often I think of you every single day. I really do.
When I wake up in the morning my first thought is to be grateful for a new day. I thank God for it. If you don’t believe in God that’s your right but you should give it some serious thought before you dismiss the possibility that you are alive for a good reason, not just by accident.
Either way, you should start each day happy to be alive. Be grateful for sunrise, blue skies, cold rain and for puppies and bugs.
Be grateful for the people you love.
That’s when I think of you, first thing each day.
Start your day happy.
When you’re happy it makes everyone around you happy. It’s contagious. They spread their happiness to other people. We need more happy people in the world.
As you get older you will learn a great many things about life. You’ll learn most of them from experience but you can get a lot of good tips from your parents, grandparents and other people who are older and carry your life in their hearts.
I’d like to share some of my life lessons with you. I’ll just do one at a time.
My dad taught me what I think is the single most important thing in life:
“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anyone else.” – Don Williams, 1981
If you can’t love yourself, who will?
I’ll have some more of these from time to time. You can take them to heart or just consider them and decide later what you think.
We never know how much time we have left so I’ll give you the end of these lessons here and now.
This is the point and purpose of life, in my opinion:
“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures;
we are the otters of the universe.” Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
With much love,
Your Grandpa Dave
Copyright 2018, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.
I love Saturday mornings. Instead of lurching awake at 2:45AM to go to work I come to slowly between 6 and 7 to fix coffee, feed the dogs and then I just sit and think.
Well, sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit.
Here are some of the thoughts I’ve thunk this Saturday morning:
— I’m hungry but not enough to walk six steps into the kitchen for a banana, a bowl of cereal or to fix eggs, bacon and pancakes. I suppose a lot of people in the world would not think of this as being hungry.
— Why do people say “more and more”? No matter how many “mores” you add it’s still just more.
— We have “pet peeves”. Makes no sense. I like my pets.
— A minor peeve: when people leave trash in the grocery shopping cart. (I refuse to use that cart. I insist on one that’s totally empty.)
— Speaking of empty, my coffee mug is empty but the dogs are sleeping on my lap and footstool. I’ll just have to suffer.
— There’s something about sitting in front of the TV without turning it on that makes me puff up my chest with pride!
— What’s with people who have the TV on all the time even though nobody is watching it? (My dad used to yell about the waste of expensive electricity. I just think it’s sad that so many people accept constant noise in their lives.)
— And how about when you’re riding in someone’s car and they have the radio on but turn it down so you can talk? It’s not OFF, just down low enough to be background noise. (This is also a serious annoyance for those of us who talk in the radio.)
— I don’t talk ON the radio, I talk IN it.
— Wouldn’t it be funny if our ears were on our hips? We’d have to pull down our pants at concerts.
— Who first came up with the idea of picking berries off a bush, drying them in the sun, crushing them, pouring hot water over them and drinking it? Seems nutty but it was a seriously great idea!
— Who first decided to crush some dried leaves, wrap more leaves around them, light one end and inhale the smoke? This is just stupid. (Ponder this for a moment. It’s an absolutely ridiculous idea and yet is probably the most enduring habit in all of human history!)
My Saturday morning brain wanders from one silly notion to another. But this stuff is important to me because it means I’m still exploring the world and allowing my mind to explore itself.
When I was between marriages some thirty-four years ago I was forced to learn a very hard lesson most people manage to avoid all their lives:
I learned to be alone and to love it.
I had never been alone for more than a couple of hours or an afternoon at most. I grew up in my parents’ home, moved into an apartment with a buddy at 19, was married at 20 and lived with my first wife until I was thirty. Then, the divorce. Reality caved in on me and I found myself living in a small apartment with our newlywed furniture and nothing else that would ever allow me to use the word “our” again.
“Our” life was over. My life alone was beginning and I was terrified.
Forced to take a scheduled vacation alone, I rented a house near a beach north of Ft. Bragg, California, and settled in for a week of misery as a newly-single recluse.
There is nothing more lonely than an unfamiliar house in which the only thing that is yours is you.
People who have never been married for a long time and have it suddenly collapse can’t know the vacancy of self mourning. I’m not talking about self pity, that’s the easy part, but rather, true self mourning. It has nothing to do with longing for the company of your ex-spouse. Missing your happy memories of that person is a given, but what I didn’t expect was the excruciating sense that half of the whole person I had become over my lifetime was suddenly nonexistent and would never return. I think it must feel exactly like being only half alive.
I missed everything that gave me comfort: my wife and son, our home, our street and neighbors, our dog, our daily routines. I was desperate to scar my soul, to stop the pain and repair the trauma to my spirit before it bled away but I didn’t know how. So, I cried. It’s all I could do. I gave in to my grief completely, nonstop except for brief periods of respite provided by fatigue. Then, exhausted, I would tumble into a restless sleep and eventually awaken still empty, still lonely but refreshed enough to well up with pain once again and resume my suffering.
That’s the key, I think. Wallow in your misery. Be mindful of your physical well-being and force yourself to take care when nothing seems to matter, including self preservation. Eat when you should. Sleep as much as you can. I found writing to be cathartic but nothing heals like embracing pure grief, for that is its purpose.
During a lull in despondency during my lonely vacation, a few days after beginning my self-imposed confinement and getting bored with self pity, I stepped outside my rented home just to take a peek at the world.
The sky and sea were complimentary shades of brilliant blue. The sun and sand were golden, the air crisp, thick and salty. It was one of those perfect winter days on the Northern California coast and that’s when I first heard the voice inside my head:
“This day is a gift.”
“You’re going to be fine. You’ve survived. You’ll be happy again,” the voice said.
I was not alone. I had me.
As I listened to that calm, reassuring, wiser – perhaps divine – part of myself I suddenly understood that I had always been there and that I knew more about myself than I had ever considered. I had a lot to say but had never been able to hear it because my world had been a cacophony of noise and distractions. And, as I listened to my internal confidante I learned something else amazing:
I like me.
A few days later, still sad but at peace, I wandered into a little shop in Mendocino and spotted a poster waiting for me to carry it home. It was a beautifully photographed picture of a tiny, empty rowboat mirrored in a calm sea. The caption beneath it read:
There is perfection in solitude. It is the reflection of serenity.
I returned to the societal circus and made my way back in.
That was many years ago but now I can still hear my internal voice wherever I go, whenever I listen. He’s a good guy. He cares about me and would never give me bad advice.
Today, Carolann, and I are gloriously happy in the twenty-eighth year of our honeymoon. As Paul Harvey often said, we are “happily ever-aftering.”
But I still find time to get away by myself for a few days every now and then because I still need to be alone once in awhile, to shut out the noise, to settle down and listen to the brain in my heart.
I need days away from familiar people, places and things to talk at leisure with my internal best friend and to frolic together like dogs on a beach until we wear ourselves out with freedom and possibilities, and to promise each other we will do this again.