My father recently connected with a few cousins that he had never met before in his entire life. Now, my father is in his sixties; and to me, it seems almost inconceivable to not know and have memories by that time with people so closely related to you. I grew up living close to most of my cousins, for about a decade we all lived together in Houston and the surrounding area. I have so many memories of visiting them, bonding, and exploring the world and our lives together. I remember the crazy stories, the endless games of Monopoly, and the ski trip where my cousins and I played Animal Crossing for hours on a GameCube that ran through a car adapter and a tiny attachable screen while my dad and uncle drove.
He met up with them recently in Dallas for a family reunion (or would it just be a union?), and you can see the family resemblance immediately in the picture he showed me. They grew up not even fifteen minutes apart from each other in a small town in upstate New York; but because of family squabbles they had no control over, they only knew that one another existed out there, but they remained nameless and faceless to each other. My other uncle joked that he would have to take extra-precautions if he ever dated someone from his old hometown, because you never knew if some kind of past animosity hid very real blood relations.
I say all of this because there was one cousin who really wanted to come but couldn’t. Just before the trip, she had been sick, and was later diagnosed with leukemia. I talked to my dad recently, and while he’s had the chance to facetime her and talk over the phone, the prognosis isn’t looking good.
He doesn’t think he’s ever going to get the chance to meet her.
Imagine that, over sixty years of life, six decades worth of memories, lost to what could have been. You could spend a lifetime wondering what the world would have been like if he had known them sooner. What kind of effect would they have had on my dad? Would they have been there for him when he needed help and support? Would their love have added that much more to his life? Would even just a few more happy memories change the way he lives now?
How can you even being to imagine how one decision, or a series of them, could have affected one’s life so fundamentally? How can I one even grasp what is it to have lost so much time because of hatred, or at least indifference.
I recently had a bit of a rough spot. Honestly, it’s been a rough few weeks. I had one night just crying and crying and crying, asking myself if I was wrong, if I was the bad man, if I really was making the world a worse place.
It took a few days, but I am finally back to normal, or at least whatever normal is to me anymore. I can go without thinking about the people that hurt me; and even when they do pop into my head, I can just use the techniques I’ve learned in my outpatient program and just acknowledge them, but then move on.
Because time is just too precious to waste on the people, things, and events that try to bring you down.
I’m not saying there isn’t an appropriate time for sadness, but just that there’s also an appropriate time for joy; and it’s whenever you can seize it. Life doesn’t have to be a constant feeling of contentment or normalcy, we should strive to find the things in life, big and small, that bring us to that place where it’s nothing but grins from ear to ear. Or, it could be the things that bring us that small feeling of satisfaction, of feeling accomplished, or feeling connected to someone or something bigger than ourselves.
I don’t want to be one of those people that just preaches on and on about how you just need to seize happiness and then suddenly all of your problems go away, that there’s an easy recipe for banishing away the demons. It’s not. What I did, and maybe this can help you too, was go through a long list of pleasurable activities and just check off each one that appealed to me. It could be sitting outside and hearing nature, going to the beach, drawing something, or just grabbing a drink with a friend. Whenever you have free time, just try to do one of those things.
Your depression or whatever is keeping you down is going to make you want to just stay stationary and ruminate, but you have to fight that urge. You have to do something. Just taking that first step is already a victory. Even one minute outside in the sunlight is better than an hour sitting alone in your room hating yourself.
So, when I was hating myself, when I hadn’t been outside for four days (except to walk my dog, which I tried to pawn off to my wife as much as I could), I decided instead of lying in my bed again to just wait for the tears and the sadness to come, I ran. I got out, I went somewhere to check off something on my list.
I went to the nursery and bought plants.
When I was kid, I remember helping my mom water her orchids at our old home, the last place I ever called home that wasn’t a place where I paid the rent. She had me plant beautiful rose bushes on the side of house and a tree in the front. I remember the feeling of my hands in the soil, and just feeling so connected to the earth and something bigger than me. I knew that these plants would grow, bloom, and go through the circle of life long after I was out of the picture.
When I was putting in my new plants, I reached my hand into the big bag of soil that I bought and just ran the dirt through my hands. I could feel it’s freshness, it’s vitality; I could feel life running through my fingers.
It was so refreshing. It made me feel alive and good and that I was adding something to this world. I felt like I was taking part in G-d’s creation, and in His plan for us to cultivate and care for this place. I could feel the love in the soil, the same love my mother gave me when I planted with her. It was all flowing through me. Nothing can banish away self-hatred like the feeling of real love and connection, and all it took was making a simple garden.
As I write this now, I know that I may never see tomorrow. Rockets fly towards cities in my country every day. Every single moment is a gift, a gift that you can never get back, but only remember. Do you want to spend those moments, those free times, your days and nights, your entire life living without experiencing life?
There will always be things that bring us down, and that’s ok, that’s life, that’s an essential part of the human struggle. The choice we have is in how we react to them. Do you lose yourself in the abyss, as I’ve done countless times (and probably will again in the future), or do you do one small thing to try and get yourself out. Acknowledge the pain, do what is in your power to stop it or fix the situation, but then move on. Don’t let yourself get bogged down in what-ifs, the painful pasts, or your regrets. I spent so many sleepless nights going over and over and over and over and over and over everything I’ve done wrong in my life, every embarrassing moment, and every regret on an endless film reel with my eyes pried open like in A Clockwork Orange. The night before these pictures had been like that, and the night before that too. I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours in two days.
This one small thing saved me from going even further down the drain. A cilantro plant, some celery, a few succulents saved me from more sleepless nights filled with hating myself and wondering if the world would be better without me.
So much time just goes by, and these are trying times to be in. Still, take a moment for yourself to experience something that will bring you even just a little bit of joy. Time only moves forward, and you can never get any of the nights you spent spiraling back to reuse when you feel like it. This could be it. This could be the last day you ever see.
So make it count. Seize something, anything that brings you happiness, and hold onto it like a rope pulling you out of the quicksand of life’s horrors. Don’t waste your time hating people, or waste your time caring about people that hate you. Don’t let an opportunity to connect pass you by because you were afraid, or you held onto someone else’s hatred and anger.
Today is a guarantee, tomorrow isn’t. Live. Just live with whatever joy you can bring yourself. Your memories don’t have to be a film reel of pain and regret, you can make it a scrapbook of good memories. You just need to take the first step.
It’s hard, G-d it can be so hard, but you can do it.
If someone like me can, you can too.
If you need someone to connect to, I’m here.
If you need something to do, find a friend and ask them what they’d like to do with you.
If you need a friend, take the first step in meeting someone new.
If you need the motivation, just look inside.
Like Chaplain said in The Great Dictator, “you, the people have the power…the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”
Just live for this moment, even if it’s just buying a plant and running some soil though your hands.
Whatever is that makes you happy, that brings you joy, that brings you ecstasy, that brings you anything than pain, do it.
Tomorrow may never come, but if you do one small thing that brings you happiness, at least today will have been worth it.
Good luck, a strong heart, and much love from the holy land.