Monday, December 10, 2012

Simple Pleasure, Great Life


My youngest daughter is playing odd games on the computer. Most of these require her to add virtual ingredients to virtual desserts and the like. At this moment she is trashing an ice cream sundae she just finished making. All the while there is annoying muzak playing and far less annoying chatter. You see, my daughter does nothing without talking her way through it, humming to sum tune, or singing. And so, while I sit here typing my thoughts, she is narrating the events of her game. "I'm practicing doing things perfect...I'm going to add chocolate sauce and sprinkles to this because I think that would be so delicious...This guy can't complain because he has like the totally perfect snack now. I mean, come on, that looks so delicious, right?"

I couldn't imagine a happier soundtrack to listen to.

At school today, I was talking with kids about things to worry about and things to let go. One guy had been trying to come in our front door as one of our female students was in the process of screaming at her mother. The girl was cursing and stomping, looking for things to punch The guy in my class had had to make his way around all this and then come down to class. He said, "why do I have to always run into this stuff?" It's not his first time being a witness to people losing themselves.

We talked about it some and then he said, "Okay, Brian, what's the right way to think about this?" I smiled. He knows that I like to get them to think about an event, idea, story, or poem in a different way than what they might have thought at first. I took a breath and gave myself a moment.

"Well," I said, "I see her having a tough time and the first thought I have is that I'm glad it's not me." They laughed. I went on. "But then I think about how good it is that I'm not in a situation that's making me boil over and when I think of that, I realize that things are going well for me. I realize that I'm leading a good life."

They were still listening, so I went on.

"And then I think about her some more and it hits me: it must suck to be her right in that minute. It must suck to be possessed by anger. And it really must suck to feel as though your mother is an enemy."

I stopped then and looked at him.

"So what you're saying," he said, "is that I'm lucky to be me?"

I nodded and he smiled at me.

"Damn, Fay. You always got to try to be making me feel good about myself."

"Perish the thought," I said.

I'm really not trying to get him to feel great about himself. I'm not much of a believer in promoting kids' self-esteem. Instead, I want them to see that there are things around them that can and should fill them with some joy. This guy I was talking to is a smart enough kid who wants to be taught. He needs a coach. I can teach him how to use punctuation, but what I really want is to help him learn to think. I do that by talking with him, having him write, and trying to get him to read (he thinks that books might really be the death of him).

"Hey," I said to him and the other students there. They looked up.

"Here's something else. I feel better about this day having talked about this stuff with you. It makes me realize that I get to hang around you, talk about stuff that matters, and get paid for it. Then, after we're done with this talk, I get to write with you and later I'll have the chance to read what you wrote. How great is this life?"

They laughed at me. Told me I was a freak. And then they started writing.

But really, how great is this life? I don't feel that well tonight and have been run-down for a few days. Still, I'm sitting here while my daughter tells me all about her game on the computer, while the dog nudges my arm for some attention, while all around the world is filling up with Christmas cheer. Such simple pleasures abound. And to top it all off, I'm sitting before a computer, typing my thoughts out to the world.

This is a really great life. Write on.