I was about 21 years old and I was driving my scooter home from the “graveyard” shift at 7-11, so it must have been about 7:30 a.m. Working those hours, 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. was not easy. It was cold and cloudy and I just wanted to get home and get some sleep. The light turned red and I waited next to the curb. There was an elderly lady standing on the sidewalk very close to the curb. She looked at me and smiled and said, “Your job today is to make the sun shine.” I smiled at her. Then the light changed. I rode off and never saw her again. But I never forgot that moment.
As I said, I was about 21, but I wasn’t making the sun shine for a lot of people. I was sullen and morose. I was often rude. Though my life wasn’t easy at the time, it wasn’t bad, but I was ungrateful for the blessings in my life and thus I was unhappy. Very unhappy.
Around the same time I was living with three other young men in a four-bedroom house. As I said, I wasn’t a happy person at the time and I wasn’t very easy to live with. Sometimes I would walk down the street to the grocery store. As I walked past the houses I noticed a particular house that had an Asian family in it. Every time I looked in that house I saw that they were laughing with each other. They looked so happy. I wanted to knock on the door and ask them why they always looked so happy.
I didn’t knock on their door of course, but I needed an answer. So I created a story. I told myself is that this family was from Viet Nam. They had survived the war. Somehow they got to the United States, but they were separated for a long time before arriving. Not only that, but some of their family members and friends had died as a result of the war or the Communist takeover. Getting to the United States was a long and perilous journey, but they all made it and they found each other. Now they were happy because they had survived something most Americans could not even comprehend. They had each other and they had a safe place to live. That is why they were so happy.
I have no idea if that story is even remotely true. Instinctively, even at the age of 21, I knew there were some vital ingredients for happiness. The first was gratitude. The second was gratitude’s twin sister, contentment with what one has. The next was enduring and surviving hardship with others. The last was being with loved ones. Sometimes the phrase “loved ones” is used synonymously with anyone we happen to grow up with. That’s not always the case. I think love is a choice, not just a familial obligation. We can love people we grew up with, but not like them and not spend a moment with them once we leave home.
Looking at this family, I think they loved each other and liked each other. They were happy to be together. They realized it was a gift.
Again, I don’t know if my story was true. It might have all been a projection of what I wanted in my life. I wanted to be happy and loving. I wanted to laugh a lot with and appreciate the people who were in my life. But immaturity, anger and laziness kept me from all those things for a long time.
I could make the sun shine for some people, but not for everyone, and not even most of the people I knew. This isn’t self-condemnation. The past is done and the only way to redeem the past is to live correctly in the present. But of course, I wish I could have done things differently. I can’t even say that I didn’t know how, because I could be nice when I wanted to be. I just didn’t want to be most of the time. I was angry and unhappy and at some level, I wanted to be those things. No longer.
Today I suffered some extreme unhappiness. It was almost overwhelming. Though by nature I am an optimistic and happy person, I struggle with that part of me that wants to be a victim who wants to be unhappy. There is a perverse and distorted safety in fear. If I remain afraid, I don’t have to move forward in life. I don’t have to struggle as I imagined the Vietnamese family did. I’ve spent years not moving forward. It’s true that I missed some struggles, but because I wasn’t fighting my battles, I was losing.
So I fought my unhappiness today. I fought it hard. Sometimes it got the better of me. Carrying around sadness and fear is difficult. But I don’t think it was a coincidence that I remembered the story of the elderly lady who told me what my job was. So today I kept busy. I asked for prayer. I watched a movie and played catch with my daughters. I cleaned the kitchen. I read. I remembered my house on the beach. I remembered to Get Started and to Keep Going. And maybe, just maybe, I made the sun shine.