Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

Life as Performance Art

   I have often said or written that I find a new calendar, the type with large square boxes, delightful.  There, spread out over twelve months, are some 365 days, with a bonus one every four years,  of the coming year. Some are filled in very quickly before I forget.  That includes birthdays, anniversaries, major events that are already planned, and so on.  Gradually, throughout the year,  other things will be added,  ranging from garbage and yard waste pick up days to medical appointments and haircuts, and so on.  That second category might not be very interesting, but they are important.    At the start of a new year, most of those boxes remain empty.  I always wonder what those boxes will look like at the end of the year.
    On New Year’s Eve day I was out for a short walk when I ran across a neighbor. We talked about how Christmas had been, and I asked an older about her plans for New Years.  We both lamented the passing of Guy Lombardo just a few years ago,  in 1977,  and how it led to the end of the elegant New Year’s Eve parties.  Undeterred by that, she said that she and her husband would probably walk down to see the fireworks.  Then she said five most important words:  Just to mark the event.
    I like marking the events in our lives. It is easy enough to mark the big red letter days like the afore mentioned milestone birthdays or anniversaries, major events like the birth of the next generations in our family, retirement, or the “all clear” from a physician.  Most of us do that, often with some sort of celebration.
    Those days don’t fill up many of the boxes because most of life is filled with more minor events and occasions. They are the things that fill our lives.  It is small stuff like the arrival of the garden seed catalogue in the cold and misery of winter.  Or buying a new vacuum cleaner, cleaning out the garage or basement, or finally shedding sufficient pounds to buy clothes a size or two smaller. 
    Some of them are not even much fun.  I talked with a shop owner the other morning, and he was lamenting that it was time to do the annual inventory. For a few days he will spend his time writing down and counting every piece of merchandise in the store, plus all of the items they use.  All of it will get sent off to the accountant, and then comes another less than stellar day when he gets to write his annual epistle to Our Uncle Who Art In Washington.
     A fellow down the street seems to understand marking these smaller events. I have seen him cleaning his driveway after a storm, When he is done he’ll stand just inside the garage and look at it, almost as if he is saying, “I am proud I did this.”  The same thing happens after he has mowed his lawn or raked the leaves.  It is that sweet moment of enjoying the success of a job completed, and marking the event by one last look. Before long the snowplow will fill in the end of his driveway, the grass will grow, or more leaves will fall. Even so, if only for a short time, he marks the event and takes joy in it.
    Others keep a diary to mark their events. The late Queen Elizabeth ended almost every day by spending some time before toddling off to bed by writing in her diary. It is a practice she started when she was a pre-teenager, and continued it throughout her life.  Royalty gets to go off to lots of parties, dinners, and other elegant affairs, but they also have quiet days.  It didn’t matter  she marked them all, even the most mundane of them. It might be a horse ride, something amusing or naughty the Corgi’s did.
     When we distill this down, it leads us into creating and living an intentional life.  For the big events, it means taking them seriously, putting some thought and effort into it by doing our best to make them memorable. For the smaller events, it also means taking them seriously and doing our best to make them memorable.  Even if they are not necessarily something that stays in the front of our mind, our efforts touch and influence others.
    I think most of us, when we turn off the television and other noise pollution devices, or step away from the computer, can allow our mind to wander a bit and perhaps recall our past. Far more often than remembering truly big days, we recall smaller ones that have long-term impact on our life. I consider myself truly fortunate that I have a very large inventory of them.
    There was the junior high school history teacher who had the gift of making an otherwise boring subject so interesting I went on to earn a doctorate in history.  A year or so later it was a high school humanities teacher who made the visual arts come alive.  When I ran into her a few years later she not only remembered me but asked if I had started writing yet.  When I said that I had not, she looked at me and asked, “Why?” Another was a sales associate at a local store who would ask people she knew, “Tell me something good that has happened today.”
     The reverse side of this proverbial coin is that there are people who hope and would welcome it if we were intentional about giving them a boost. The opportunities for rescuing children from a burning building or great heroic things like that are few and far between.  Rather, it is the moment we can give a compliment or say something that puts a smile on their face.  It could be something as simple as having a repertoire of bad “dad jokes” that we tell.  They might roll their eyes and groan at how dumb they are, but they will remember you as the person who told them.
      Meanwhile, there is that calendar with all those empty boxes. And with it, the question:  how are we going to fill them?  What are you going to do just to mark the event that you on this side of the sod for another day?
    One good piece of advice that I have adopted came from the Canadian humorist, Stephen Leacock.  He was a mathematics professor in Ontario but became famous and wealthy for his short stories. One time when he was at the barber shop, the owner asked why he was so lucky.  Leacock said, “I believe in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I am.”
     If you want good luck creating happy memories, get to work.

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