One of my literary heroes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said, "Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
In this hustle and bustle we call life, and especially in this current holiday season, we all scurry and scamper about, trying to make everything "right," struggling to fulfill some Currier and Ives impression of homespun perfection. Yet seldom is that lofty goal even possible. Too many realities infringe upon our personal Hallmark Channel movies, and we may be left feeling inadequate and frustrated -- unless.
If we stop and realize true excellence is not measured by how many dollars are in our bank accounts or how many parties we're invited to attend, we might find contentment. How many charities we make donations to, or how many fancy gifts we buy becomes irrelevant. Plus, we find that anything done without love makes us just one more garishly clanging cymbal anyway.
Two years ago this month I received the worst news I'd ever gotten in my life. A very kind but businesslike physician told me my husband had contracted Lou Gehrig's Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, accompanied by early Alzheimer's, and had approximately six months to live.
This once barrel-chested teddy bear who's been my best friend and protector, father to my children, and love of my life for 31 years will soon have to leave me behind to fend for myself on these dismal plains. We've fought it violently; I've pumped him full of so many vitamins and supplements, he has the nicest fingernails in town, but I know our sweet days are numbered.
Many changes have had to come about because of Michael's illness. I've had to leave a job and people I cherished in a private Christian school to return to the public arena because we so desperately needed better insurance coverage.
I've also had to put our homeplace, the only one I've known for 53 years, up for sale, because utility costs, rising taxes and many other issues have made it nearly impossible for me to maintain it.
Woe is me? Never.
In my new place of employment, I have found some of the dearest and most meaningful friendships imaginable. I have rediscovered the joys of the "big" classroom and greatly varied students. Yes, the challenges are greater than in a more homogenous environment, but so are the rewards.
Concerning our land, I have had to become unusually ingenious, figuring out ways to sell timber, even loads of firewood. Pure necessity has led me down a plethora of paths which might even allow me to cling to my portion of Eden.
And, most importantly, in my husband's final years have come some of the most precious moments of my life. To paraphrase Sally Field's character, M'Lynn, in Steel Magnolias, as a woman I have had the great privilege and honor of being a part of it all, the beginnings and the endings. I have had the long rides up to the dam or over to Aiken, listening to him sing along with Josh Turner. I have had the gentle touches on my cheek in the middle of the night, and the words, out of nowhere: "I'll never forget one thing -- I love you."
And there have also been too many wonderful words and hugs and deeds from family and friends to count. Meals brought, cards sent, visits full of memories and laughter.
In addition, my children have grown up before my eyes and become young men, who, I thank God, now fully comprehend how blessed they have been to have had just such a father all these years. They gladly help him bathe and dress and cut those prospering nails with a tenderness I hope will serve them well as future family men themselves someday.
One extra-special friend has also come to live with us, a gentlemen originally hired to help with the yards and repairs Michael could no longer do, but who now serves also as a caretaker for my husband, and for all our family in dozens of ways both large and small. He runs to bring me a glass of tea with lemon when I trudge in from a long day, and he has no problem folding underwear or starting supper after he's repaired a broken pipe.
In every life, there are changes, many not wished for, several dreaded passionately, but there are also good transformations that arise as well.
Happiness? One silent, holy night 2,000 years ago gave us all the strength and courage and grace we need to find our way to joy, if we will only be still... and know.
Mindy Jeffers is a Columbia County resident and a teacher at Fox Creek High School. E-mail comments to mindyjeffers at hotmail.com.
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