I belong to a small neighborhood gym. It’s not much, but it’s plenty for me. Something unique about the morning locker room population at this gym is that I’m among very few men under the age of a hundred & twenty five. While that might be a slight exaggeration, there really is some serious senior socializing happening. I love it. These guys are wandering back and forth from the lounge to the steam room, wrapped in little white towels, talking about everything from politics to pizza, shrugging their shoulder, flapping their hands, and rolling their eyes at one another. In the midst of that shrugging, flapping, and rolling, they seem to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the nuances of their little old man banter. I enjoy it too.
I mostly listen. However, knowing that in the relatively near future I myself am likely to be a towel wrapped, shoulder shrugging, hand flapping, eye rolling, little old man, I do try to work my way into the conversations every so often; for practice. Isn’t it amazing, almost unfathomable? I’m not complaining. I know there are many joys that go hand in hand with aging…increased wisdom, enhanced knowledge, the early bird dinner special. It’s just that there’s something mind-blowing about knowing that if I manage to last another forty years, I will undoubtedly be reflecting on what I now know as “today” with statements like, “it seemed like yesterday,” and it will seem like “yesterday,” only it won’t be “yesterday,” it will be forty years ago. Time moves pretty darn fast. I recently had cause to remember that every moment is precious, and that maximizing happiness is a good idea if you’re looking to live a happy life. The undeniable truth is that each of us is happiest when we’re happy.
One of the guys at the gym is named Fred. Yesterday Fred stopped me and asked, “Did you hear about Herman?”
I had not.
Fred told me, “He had a heart attack.
I asked how he was doing.
Fred said, “He died.”
My heart sank. Last week Herman was going on about his grandchildren. He was beaming. He was filled with joy. Herman was always filled with joy. It billowed out of him like steam from a fog machine. Wherever Herman was, so there was the joy…flowing from him, seeping out, spreading, attaching itself to everyone in its path. Herman wouldn’t allow anything but happiness. He smiled in the face of bitterness, offering the jelly donuts and bagels with cream cheese (which he brought to share every morning).
If someone said, “I’m having hip surgery next week,” Herman would say, “Oh…have a jelly donut.”
If someone said, “My sciatica is acting up,” Herman would say, “Oh…have a bagel with cream cheese.”
He would smile when he suggested these things. He made the others want to accept his offerings. He made people understand that it really was that simple to focus on joy. During the moments Herman spent with you, you knew how to countermand the negative with the positive. He was always quietly teaching an important life skill. Maybe it was his mission. I never realized how impactful Herman’s message was until I found out that he had passed. Once I did, that realization was instantaneous.
Friends come in all shapes and sizes. I never hung out with Herman outside of the locker room. His children are old enough to be my parents. We never talked on the phone or met up at the mall. Regardless, Herman was my friend. I hope he knew that. I believe he did. I will miss him, but to honor his legacy, I will do so with happiness in my heart. I will carry Herman’s message with me, and work to exemplify his joyful spirit as I tread my path. For me, old man-ness is but the blink of an eye away from right now. I intend to be a joyful old man. I will do my best to be joyful in all of the moments from now until then, and when I fail…I will do better. I will find the positive stuff among the negative stuff, because I will focus on it.
I think that Herman was suggesting that our moments as we know them are fleeting and limited. He thought that eating jelly donuts and bagels with cream cheese was a better use of time than complaining or feeling sad. He thought that smiling was better than frowning, and he showed what he thought through his words and his actions.
Commendable, brave, and wise.
There’s a proverb that suggests, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly.” Fred told me that the last thing Herman said, with his friends and family at his side, just before he passed, was, “Don’t be sad, this is a happy thing.” He said it with a smile.
I don’t know what happens to people when they die. I wonder if caterpillars know what happens to their caterpillar friends as they loose them to cocoons. I wonder if they’re scared when as they watch their fellow caterpillars embark on that journey, or as they prepare to take it themselves. What do they think is going to happen? Do they ever get to know? Does it matter?
This reflection is dedicated to my friend Herman, and to his endless pursuit of happiness, even in the face of life’s many challenges and mysteries. Thank you for sharing you gift of positive energy, and for always reminding me that happiness is the way. Wherever you are along the pathways of your journey, I hope that peace and joy are with you. Having known you for even a moment, I have to believe that they are.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.