Some people have a spirit animal, an animal that’s supposed to represent your skills or beliefs in some way.

Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy

Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

My spirit animal is Fozzie Bear.  Yes, that furry comedian from “The Muppet Show,” the one with the pork pie hat and polka-dot bow tie.  “The one who tells the terrible jokes?” you say.  Yes, but you misspelled hilarious!

Wocka, wocka, wocka!

My kids were playing a video game, and a bad guy came on the screen.  “Is he Russian?”  Andy asked.  From the kitchen, I said, “I don’t know, but he sure is walking fast.”

I thought it was hilarious. 

This morning, I hugged my daughter, Blair, before she’d had her morning coffee and told her she was shrinking.  It took her a full thirty seconds to figure out I was wearing inch-high flip flops.  When she did, she laughed.  Which was why I had done it in the first place.  She had been kind of down last night.  I figure, if I can start a new day for her off with a dumb joke that actually cracks her up, I’m doing my job.

I love corny jokes.  For some reason, they’re known as “dad jokes,” but they’re also pure Mom.  They offend no one.  They make fun of no one.  They’re not dirty.  Anyone, of any age, can laugh – or, as is often the case with my audiences, groan – but almost always smile.  Corny jokes are great icebreakers.

Puns are the droppings of soaring wits.” – Victor Hugo

What do you call a fake noodle?  An impasta!

What does a nosey pepper do?  It gets jalapeno business!

I can’t believe I got fired from the calendar factory.  All I did was take a day off!

Why can’t you give Elsa a balloon?  Because she’ll just let it go!

I wish I had a drummer available at all times to provide that rim shot.  Sometimes, if I’m in the kitchen and planning ahead, I can tell a joke and thunk one of the pots hanging on the pot rack with a spoon.  Delightful!

What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet?  SUPPLIES!

In an age of often unbearable hipness, where girls from fifth grade up are mean, where nerdy or vulnerable kids get picked on, where adults are ruder than ever – flipping people off, shouting mean things at sporting events, making shameful, profane comments under the cloak of anonymity on websites, bullying people on social media; you can probably think of your own examples – it’s not such a bad thing to send a corny joke someone’s way.   They’re kind of a safe haven, gentle humor that means no offense and would give you a hug if it could. 

On “The Muppet Show,” there were two cranky old hecklers, Statler and Waldorf, who always trashed Fozzie’s jokes.  But secretly, they must have loved them, because they were always back the next week for more. 

What did the fish say when it swam into a wall?  Dam!

Every day, Josh gets a little note in his lunch box, as his brother and sister did before him, with a little joke or maybe an illustration if I can think of one.  He loves them so much, he saves them.  We have a drawer full of yellow stickies with one-liners on them. 

Did you hear about the man whose bakery burned down?  His business is toast! 

I’m reading a book about anti-gravity.  It’s impossible to put down! 

Need an ark?  I Noah guy!

I’ve got a million of ‘em!  Now, here’s my most risqué one:  What did one old boob say to the other?  “If we don’t get some support around here, people will think we’re nuts!”  I admit, I wouldn’t tell that to everybody, but the ladies in the choir at church thought it was pretty funny.   

Norman Cousins, the respected editor of the magazine, Saturday Review, is famous for laughing himself to health.  He was diagnosed with a crippling spinal condition, and no medicine helped him.  So one day, he checked himself out of the hospital, holed up in his apartment and spent a month reading comic books, watching funny movies and TV shows like “Candid Camera,” writing jokes and laughing up a storm.  A month later, he was cured.  “All I did was laugh myself to health,” he told his doctors, who were dumbfounded at the change in his condition.

I figure, there’s enough bad stuff out there in the world.  People are polarized over politics, stressed out by technology, worried about money and the state of the world in general.  They don’t need me to try to be profound and make deep or ironic statements (which is good, because I don’t have any).  So, in closing, let us pause to remember these meaningful words of Groucho Marx:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Wocka, wocka, wocka!

For more fun, here is a brief history of puns from the New York Post.

Josh was late for school because I forgot to get gas last night after choir practice.  I didn’t get gas before choir because I was already late for that. The car holds 18 gallons. I put in 17.972 gallons.  So basically, we started the day running on fumes. 

I’m not feeling like Super Mom today.  What’s new?  Although there are some days when I nail it – remember in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when Toula Portokalos starts working for her Aunt Voula’s travel agency, and she’s on the phone and computer and zipping around in her rolling chair, just on fire with efficiency and greatness? – most of the time I feel that I don’t nail it.  Maybe I staple it, or just hold it together with Scotch tape. We have duct tape, which would be better, but I don’t know where it is.

Most days, I get up, let the dogs out, feed them, clean up whatever’s in the kitchen, empty the dishwasher, get some laundry going, fix the lunches, give Josh his wake-up call so he can snooze, fix breakfast, throw on some clothes and brush my teeth before we head to school. 

I also put on lipstick and brush my hair.  This is for two reasons: One, because my mom always said, “Don’t leave the house without lipstick.”   Two, because I always have it in the back of my mind: “What if the day goes horribly wrong and there’s a mug shot and it gets printed in the paper?”  At least, I’ll be wearing lipstick and a bra.

I suspect that most people don’t think these things, but who knows, maybe they do. 

lipstick with organizerYesterday was just a bust.  I mentioned that I was late for choir practice, but that was just toward the tail end of the chain of “meh.”  Before that, I had busted my gut to race out to our local charter science high school.  Our older son, Andy, went there, and it is wonderful.  But they have a lottery for kids to get in, and we had been told that the drawings would start very soon.  I scrambled for Josh’s birth certificate, SSN, and a utility bill to show that we actually live where we say we do.  Throughout the day yesterday, I had dragged the multi-page application form from place to place, filling it in whenever I had a few minutes.  Finally, it was done!  I booked to the school before it closed for the day, and the lady at the front desk said that the lottery for Josh’s grade would start September 1 at 7 a.m., and there would be “a line around the parking lot” at that time, so that’s something to look forward to.

Before that, I had spent 15 minutes on hold with the doctor’s office.  All I wanted was to get permission, aka a referral, for my dang annual mammogram. But that would have been too easy.  Although I had seen the doctor several times last year and actually had surgery, that didn’t count.  This woman finally came on the phone and said, “This is Pat.”  Like that’s helpful.  I don’t know who she is, or care, frankly.  No offense to Pat.  “Yes, you were here for some gyn-e things” – I was not familiar with this term; it rhymes with shiny – “but you didn’t get a breast exam.”  So before I can get the mammogram, I have to come in for a documented physical. 

In other words, they are holding my mammogram hostage. 

“Do you still want to do that?”  “Well, yeah,” I said.  I simply can’t wait to see those happy people.

The whole day was like that.  Earlier this week, I saw that an illustrator named Yao Xiao has done a series of illustrations showing how to be more positive by saying, “Thank you,” instead of “I’m sorry.”  For example, instead of “Sorry I’m just rambling,” how much better to say “Thank you for listening.” Or, instead of “Sorry I’m kind of a drag” — “Thank you for spending time with me.”  Xiao figured out that having gratitude and apologizing are a lot alike, but saying thank you makes both parties feel better about themselves. 

So, thank you for listening.  Thanks to my family for putting up with me.  Thanks to my car for not running out of gas.  Thanks to God for a family to take care of, and another day to do it.

If you were to grab a remote and somehow channel-surf through my brain right now, this is what you would see:  Click:  A highway out West, deserted except for the tumbleweed that blows past the camera, maybe a buzzard circling in the sky.  Click: A front yard of a house. It’s night, and you’re basically watching the grass grow and listening to crickets.  Cricket, cricket, cricket.  Click:  Somewhere in outer space.  Just a bunch of stars, no starships, no Jedi, no Captain Kirk.  It’s pretty quiet out there on that final frontier. 

There you have it.  This is what is going on with me mentally.  Nada, zippety doo dah.  It’s pitiful. 

waiting for inspirationIf you are that unfortunate combination of a creative person and a Type A, you sort of base your self-worth on your latest achievement.  Over the last few months, I finished three publications and a book.  The three publications all had roughly the same deadline, so I was really hauling it there for a couple of months.  The big white board by my desk was covered with the list of stories I was working on.  Eventually, they all got checked off, and that was a great feeling.  In the cycle of how I work, I went from hopelessness — “I am never going to finish.  This is not humanly possible.  I’m going to let everyone down because there is no way I can get all this done.” – to cautious optimism as balance tipped on the white board.  One by one, the stories got done, and one day there were more things checked off than not.  Then I finished.   

Then it was the holidays, a frenzy of decorating and buying presents and wrapping them and buying food and eating it, and practicing for our church’s Christmas concert and playing the piano for the kids’ Christmas pageant, and feeling guilty that I didn’t send out any Christmas cards, and managing to do a handful for the neighbors on our street, no one else.  I didn’t have a good family photo to make into a card, and the wind just kind of left my sails.  I lost steam.  I pooped out. 

Today, school started back up, and I figured I would have a surge of productivity.  I took Josh to school, came home, walked the dogs, and went back to bed.  Cricket, cricket, cricket.  I managed to force myself to put a roast in the Crock Pot, so dinner is taken care of.  What I really want to do is sit on my rear end – may I digress here and say that this figure of speech doesn’t make sense; who else’s rear end would I sit on? – and watch TV, and maybe hold the scarf I’m knitting so it looks like I’m doing something, but really, I might just do a couple rows, and that’s it, and then I’ll bust out the big bag of Peanut M & Ms I’ve had my eye on.  The Christmas tree is down; I managed to get that done.  The outdoor lights are still up and will be indefinitely; I like them.  Even if I didn’t, the way I feel right now, they wouldn’t be coming down any time soon.

plantI feel bad for feeling like such a dud.  I told my daughter about it, and she said, “Creativity ebbs and flows.  It will come back.”  But, due to the unfortunate personality combination mentioned above, all I can think is, “I’m never going to produce anything again.  I will never have another surge of creativity.  This is it.  Where’s the remote?”

I told my dad about it, and he told me a joke:  A traveling salesman is lost, and he sees a guy sitting on a porch.  He gets out of his car and asks him for directions.  The man indicates which way he should go with the absolute minimum of effort, just barely pointing with his foot.  The salesman is disgusted, and says, “If you can show me anything lazier than that, I’ll give you a dollar.”  The man mumbles, “Just put it in my pocket.”

So there you have it, people.  Cricket, cricket, cricket.  ET, phone home.  Cue the tumbleweed.

When my aunt developed dementia after a stroke, she had to move to a nursing home.  We asked what possessions she could take along to remind her of home, and were surprised by the answer:  Not much.  It turns out that clutter tends to make people with dementia agitated.  It’s stressful for them.

What I got from this is that when it comes to clutter, someone with dementia is the canary in the coal mine – more sensitive to problems we may not even be aware of.  Clutter probably makes all of us more stressed, but we have more of a buffer of coping skills to let us ignore it or suppress any anxiety caused by having junk on every single surface and no place to set down a drink, so much stuff that we can’t find anything when we need it fast.  Possessions that own us, instead of the opposite.  As a test, clear off a surface somewhere in your house, and see how that one area – a tabletop, a counter, a shelf – seems restful, a place of Zen and peace.  Our souls need this; at least my soul does.   

I’ve been fighting clutter for years, and it’s a constant battle.  I throw out stuff all the time or give it away, but more stuff keeps coming in.  I feel like it’s kill or be killed – get rid of stuff or get swallowed up by it.  It’s not even junk; I mean, it’s perfectly respectable stuff.  There’s just too much of it.  Less is more. 

But lately, I’ve realized that there’s a whole ‘nother war zone, another ongoing battle, but this one I’m not fighting as successfully.  This one is in cyberspace.   I tried to explain to my kids how peaceful life used to be without smart phones or the Internet.  On a Saturday morning, for example, I would simply wake up.  I didn’t reflexively reach for the phone.  When I was away from work, work didn’t reach out and hunt me down like a dog wherever I happened to be.  I didn’t check e-mails, didn’t feel the need to respond immediately to text messages.  There were no text messages.  If someone wanted to call me, the landline was the only way to do it.  If I didn’t want to connect, I could just let the machine pick up, and pretend not to be home.  I don’t have that excuse with my cell phone; the expectation is that now we’re available all the time, no matter where we are.  “Why didn’t you pick up?”  “Um, I was in the bathroom.”  “Why didn’t you have your phone?”   

I didn’t have to respond right away to e-mails, didn’t have to cc or “reply all” to every single comment made by a group.  I didn’t have to check social media, and like posts, or comment to stay connected.  There were no funny cat videos.  If people wanted to reach me by mail, I would find out that afternoon, when I went to the mailbox.  If I wrote a letter, I knew there’d be a stretch of a few days before I could expect a response, and that was okay.  The pace was slower.  There was more time to think.  More time to read.  Far, far, fewer interruptions.  My attention span was longer.  I didn’t feel obliged to multitask.  I think I was actually more productive. I read more books, newspapers and magazines (which now are piled up in my optimistic reading stacks – more clutter!), wrote more letters (compared to the hardly any I write now). 

And lastly, there’s King Solomon from the Bible.  He’s been on my mind, too, because two people I know, who don’t know each other, independently mentioned that he was the smartest guy who ever lived.  I disagree.   Sure, he had a promising start: when God offered him anything, he asked for wisdom.   He gave the legendary answer when two women came to him, each one saying a baby was hers – but who was the real mother?  “Split the baby in half, one part for each of you,” he said.  Of course, the real mom was the one who was willing to give up her child rather than have that happen.  But Solomon lost his way; in fact, the book Ecclesiastes, which he wrote, is kind of a downer:  “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”  The younger Solomon seemed a lot more purposeful and happy.  What happened?  Well, I think the fact that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines had a lot to do with it.  

That’s 1,000 women. 

Cracked ringsA whole lot of estrogen going on — talk about clutter!  The dude lost his way; in fact, in 1 Kings 11, it says, “his wives turned his heart away.”   Instead of sticking to the one God who had given him wisdom, he built shrines and made offerings to other gods.  He pleased his pagan wives, but he really ticked off God; because of him, God split the kingdom of Israel in two.  Solomon had all the riches anyone could want, but he wasn’t happy.  As an aside, I asked my friend, Claire Saunders Clough, a pastor, about Solomon, and her view was characteristically balanced:  “If you grew up knowing the Solomon and cutting babies in half story, then Solomon is your wise, hero-king figure.  But if you grew up with the split kingdom, multiple wives, perhaps author of Ecclesiastes Solomon, then you’ve got an entirely different picture.  All of Ecclesiastes 1 – I don’t really want that type of Solomon writing my encouragement for the day desk calendar.  Solomon had his wise moments, no doubt.  But I don’t know that I would ever want to put the pressure of ‘wisest man ever’ on anyone.  That’s just setting folks up for failure or setting our own expectations up for failure, even if that person is long dead!”

So, Solomon was human.  He messed up.  He also, in my opinion, would have done better with a lot less clutter.  So would I, and the battle continues.

©Janet Farrar Worthington

I made a Pandora station called Skyrim Soundtrack. It’s all music from video games, and I love it.  I made another Pandora station called John Williams film scores.  It’s got other stuff I love, especially Howard Shore’s music from all of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, and tunes by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who wrote the scores for movies like “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” — the good one, starring Errol Flynn — and “The Mark of Zorro” — the good one, starring Tyrone Power.

I vacuum my shower.  This may or may not be as gross as you think; one of our dogs likes to walk around in there, and always leaves a hair or two as a calling card.

When I was three, I kissed my parents’ little black and white TV screen because I thought Bob Barker was so handsome.  This was way before “The Price is Right” — we’re talking “Truth or Consequences” here.  I don’t know why I did this.

I love kids’ books.  I used to read them with my kids, and now that they’re older, I get them, read them, then try to get my kids to read them, too.  Ranger’s Apprentice, the Brotherband Chronicles, Percy Jackson, the Nicholas Flamel series, and for young adults, the Heir Chronicles.  I also scour used book stores for Nancy Drew books (nothing past 1980) to complete my collection.  My daughter, Blair, and I love reading Meg Cabot books, too.  She reads them first these days; she’s faster (see below).

I love Pop Tarts.  Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon first, cherry second.  I grew up in the South, where we err on the side of sweet.  I have learned that this is a regional thing; not everybody does this.  Living in the Southwest now, I have figured out that people here err on the side of spicy.  Chiles in everything.  It’s a lot healthier.  I try to stay away from stuff like chocolate chip cookies, coconut cake, custard pie, banana pudding, chocolate cake, frosted sugar cookies… you see a theme here?  I love them too much.  I’m weak.  And I have learned to love unsweet tea with lemon, something I thought I would never do,  Great sweet tea is the house wine of all respectable Southern establishments.  By itself, it’s kind of like syrup, but when you cut it with lemon — dang, it’s good!  And yet, I’ve managed to wean myself from it.  But by golly, I’m not giving up Pop Tarts.  In fact, a couple of days ago, we ran out, and I scoured the house, looking for that beautiful silver wrapper like a desperate nicotine addict rummages through ashtrays looking for cigarette butts to smoke. I started in my son Andy’s room.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  He loves them, too.

I do most of my reading in the bathroom.  This started when the kids were little, and it was the only place I could get any peaceful reading time.  Now, I have so many other things to do, I feel somehow less guilty if I just read when I’m in there.  It’s not just on the toilet, thank you for your interest; I just stand by the sink and read a few pages when I’m in there.  You know, when the shower’s all vacuumed, it’s otherwise pretty clean and kind of a nice place to be.  But what about the bedside table, you may ask?  Well, at night I pretty much just read the Bible and then do cryptograms.  Helps me clear my brain and get to sleep.  It works out pretty well for me, but it does take me longer to get through books (because I’m reading them in the bathroom a few pages at a time) than it should.

I love mysteries.  Books and TV series.  I just love the genre.  Favorites include, but are by no means limited to, Helen Macinnes, John Marquand, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham, Tom Clancy, Ellis Peters.  And binge-watching entire series on Netflix is the greatest thing ever.  For example, “24.”  The only way that’s even bearable is to binge-watch it.  Who could stand that kind of suspense over a period of weeks?  I come by this love of mysteries honestly; I got it from my dad.  When I was a kid, we’d all watch them on TV together; in fact, I’ve got the great TV mystery theme songs of the 1970s branded on my brain: Mannix, that lovely jazz waltz.  Barnaby Jones.  Hart to Hart.  Switch, with Eddie Albert.  Kojak.  Rockford Files.  Hawaii 5-O, from back when McGarrett was a Lord (Jack Lord, to be precise).

I don’t really like broccoli as much as I say I do.  I love roasted cauliflower, and cabbage, and turnips, and kohlrabi, and all kinds of vegetables.  But broccoli… I’ll eat it, God knows I’ll eat it.  But meh.

I just can’t stand cats.  I’ll eat ‘em, God knows I’ll eat ‘em — oh wait, that’s broccoli.  Just kidding!  When Denzel Washington bow-shot that cat for his supper in the awesome post-Apocalyptic movie, “The Book of Eli,” I thought I was going to hurl.  I don’t have anything against cats; I love watching funny cat videos as much as anybody.  But I’m allergic.  Even if it’s just cat residue on the clothes or furniture of a cat person: my eyes start to sting, my nose gets stuffy, my throat gets scratchy.  Cats know this, too, and in a room full of people who would love some quality cat time, choose me to rub against and purr.  Ugh.

I don’t know most of the films at the Oscars or on the New York Times bestseller list.  If it’s some tormented downer, no matter how deep it may or may not be, I’m just not interested.  Sue me.  That’s why this is called “True Confessions” instead of “Things I Pretend to Like Because They’re Supposed to be Culturally Relevant or Really Important.”  Life is too short, and there are so many sad things in it already, for me to want to put more dismal, creepy, or disturbing stuff in my brain.  The Greeks liked that sort of thing; they enjoyed the catharsis, and if Oedipus falling for a stranger who turns out to be his mother, causing him to put out his own eyes and walk around town blind, worked for them, I say, “Good for you, Ancient Greeks.”  Similarly, if Shakespearean audiences like seeing King Lear ruin his life and go mad, or watch Othello blow it with Desdemona because he is stupid enough to believe Iago, I say, “You do you, Theater-goers.”  Give me “Much Ado About Nothing,” or “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” any day.  Or the Minions from “Despicable Me.”  Or a good vintage Nancy Drew book.  Or a dog.  Especially a dog.

“The man who is well wears a crown that only the sick can see.” — Sir William Osler.

“Today is a good day to have a good day.” — Joanna Gaines.

Two of my favorite sayings just came true for me, when I had to stay overnight in the hospital after what I had hoped would be an outpatient surgical procedure.  The first was said by Osler, a legendary physician from more than a century ago, widely considered to be the Father of Internal Medicine.  Actually, I don’t know who coined the second phrase, but I heard it from Joanna Gaines on the HGTV show, “Fixer Upper.”

What Osler meant was that, you don’t know how good you have it until you don’t feel well.  The most basic things that you took for granted even a few hours earlier seem like privileges, and you think, “Oh, man, I was so fortunate, and I didn’t even know it.”  Then, if some or all of those essential things are restored to you, you realize that you have the makings of a good day.  A great day, even.

For example:  If you are lying in a bed and you don’t have these gripper things Velcro’d to your legs from ankle to knee, rhythmically squeezing first the left leg and then the right so you don’t get a blood clot, that’s a pretty good day right there.  If you want to get up from bed, or even turn over, and you can move your legs and your abdominal muscles are working even though you just had surgery, way to go!  If you want to get up, and you don’t have an IV connected to your left arm and a blood pressure thing connected to your right arm, along with the Velcro leg things mentioned above, congrats!  You’re free!  You are untethered, friend!

If you get up, despite having the IV pole, and manage to walk a lap or two around the nurses’ station on your hospital floor, fist bump!  If you manage to make it to the room toilet and something — even a few drops — comes out, you are on your way to having a good day.  In my case, the anesthesiologist told my husband I was “a lightweight” — meaning, the least bit of anesthesia just knocks me out, makes itself comfortable in my body, and doesn’t want to leave.  So when I managed to eat a Popsicle and drink a styrofoam cup of iced Shasta ginger ale — and thought those were the best things I had ever had in my life — they just sat there in my stomach, not getting absorbed.  Then they came back up.  Several times.  At last, when I finally achieved urine, it was a victory.  Things were moving along!  And then, my friends, if you have not had any food for 24 hours and you have had abdominal surgery and, when you go to the bathroom, you manage to achieve a small toot, let me tell you:  Tchaikovsky himself could not have written the cannon fire in the 1812 Overture to be any more triumphant.  The system is working!  Doctors and nurses really get excited when the old digestive tract fires back up.

But this is not about what happened to me so much as what it made me realize.  Just about everything is a gift of some kind.  We don’t always see it, but it is.  Tired at work?  Hey, at least (I hope) you got to get up, dress yourself,  eat whatever you wanted to, have a big cup of something with caffeine (which also means you don’t now have a righteous caffeine-withdrawal headache), and you either drove or walked or rode a bike or some form of public transportation to get there.   If you also had to get your kids and/or spouse up, maybe chuck some laundry in the washer, maybe put something in the Crock Pot for supper, you could look at it as a burden.  But I hope you will look at it as a privilege, because nobody had to do those things for you because you weren’t able to do it yourself.

The very best part about all this, and my recovery, is, as always, my family and friends.  My kids — Blair, Andy, and Josh, plus Kevin, Andy’s best friend, who’s visiting us this summer — have been wonderful, doing anything I needed them to do, and not letting me do much at all.  I am not good at not pushing myself, but they have done (literally) the heavy lifting when I really needed it.  Blair, my daughter, has been especially incredible, driving Josh to school, cooking meals, going to the grocery store, etc.  My friend, Marion, sent me a card that said she was wearing pajamas in solidarity with me (I love that!).   Cassie, Gena, and Leigh listened to me worrying about everything that could go wrong (and nothing did, as far as I can tell!).  I didn’t really announce it at church or among my friends, but the people who knew, like Bev, sent cards and called and checked in, and I was in their prayers.  My buddies in the praise band and choir were there for me.  Catherine fixed us meals that were feasts — twice.  My dad, my brother, Bradley, and sister-in-law, Carole, and mother-in-law, Sally, keep checking in.

And, as always, Mark was there, holding my hand before surgery, just sitting by the gurney in pre-op and being with me when the case before mine was delayed and I started to fidget.  When I didn’t bounce back right away, he was with me in the hospital room, and when it became clear that I wasn’t going to get to go home, he just slept there, wearing his same clothes, with no toothbrush or pillow.  He slept on a pullout sofa in the room, helped me get up to go to the bathroom in the night, cheered with me when I managed to achieve urine, then got up at 6 a.m., went home, took a shower, and went to work, where he spent the next nine hours taking care of his own patients.

If you have people in your life who give a crap about you, who love you, who take care of you when you’re sick, who do stuff for you when you need it, then be happy.  You have won the game, buddy.  If you’re fairly healthy on top of that, then you’ve got a lot of reasons to celebrate.  You’re wearing a crown that only someone who isn’t feeling as well as you can see.  You’ve also, I hope, got a lot more to be thankful for than you know.  Many reasons why today is a good day to have a good day.

P.S.  If I ever complain or feel sorry for myself, you have my permission to give me a swift kick — but gently, please — I’ve still got stitches.

I’ve figured out the secret of happiness, and it doesn’t involve money, or technology, or things.  Like Dorothy, the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow, I guess I’ve known this all along.  It just took a family reunion for it to come out and shine like a giant lightbulb over my head.  I realized that all of my fondest memories involve spending time with people I care about.  Usually with food, but not always.  Just talking, hanging out, no cell phones, no activities, except maybe walking as we talk, or driving.

We just spent a week in South Carolina for a joyous occasion:  a big bash to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday.  But it wasn’t just the party that made the week so special.  It was the opportunity to spend time with my brother, Bradley, my sister-in-law, Carole, and their beautiful daughters, Elizabeth, Grace, and Caroline.  It was just sitting there watching my kids, Blair, Andy, and Josh, and my nieces playing hide and seek, swimming, playing killer badminton in the back yard — just enjoying each other’s company.

For some reason, that time together just opened a floodgate of happiness inside me, and all of these memories came bobbing to the surface like sweet, serene little sailboats.  My mom wasn’t at the party; she died seven years ago.  But she’s there at every meal, when we say the blessing she and my dad taught us.  All our kids know it.  We all say it and we sound, for a few seconds, like Gregorian monks doing a soft chant at restaurants.  Mom’s there at birthdays, too, when we make “the cake” — originally my dad’s mother’s recipe, she made it ours, and now it belongs to the kids.  A chocolate sheet cake with an icing that features an entire box of confectioner’s sugar.  Not remotely healthy, but incredibly good.

While we were there, we went out for barbecue (mustard-based sauce!), fried chicken and catfish.  Fried okra, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, banana pudding, hush puppies.  All 12 of us, taking up two tables, people reaching across each other to share yummy bits from our plates.  Like many meals, it ended with what the French call an “embonpoint,” a noticeable rounding of the belly as we slowly walked back to our cars, and more than one of us said, “Oh, my God.”  We say that after big holiday meals, too, when we stroll very sedately around the block — as if we could walk off what we just ate.

We don’t eat that way much anymore, but those foods, and so many others, are  associated with memories.

I remember a trip to New England in 1992, when I was pregnant with Blair.  I had been so morning-sick, not able to keep anything down for weeks.  (Fun fact: When you throw up Campbell’s Chicken and Stars soup, if you’re not careful, the stars will go right up your nose and you have to blow your nose to get them out.)  Mark and I flew into Boston, rented a car and drove right up the coast.  We stopped in Kennebunkport, and I had my first bouillabaise.  It was right at the beginning of my second trimester, and all of a sudden, I could enjoy food again.  Like a miracle, I wasn’t just eating the oyster crackers that came with it, but the actual fish stew!  I’d never had anything so good.  But I also remember just being with Mark, seeing a part of the country we had never seen, and enjoying our life together.  We went to a bonfire in New Hampshire, and we had Maine lobsters for the first time.  I remember talking to fellow college magazine editors, our faces red from the bonfire.  The night was cold, so we were sitting on logs around the fire, dodging sudden sparks, looking up at the stars, and feeling how good it was to be alive.

I remember after our friend, Linda, died, and Mark, Blair, and our kids’ godmother, our friend Marion, went out to eat.  I don’t remember what we ate, or the name of the restaurant, but I remember that we spent a long time there, sharing our memories of Linda, healing with food and company.  I remember going out to a pub called John Steven in Fells Point, on the water in Baltimore, with good friends from Johns Hopkins.  One of them, Martha, dubbed these events “5:01”s, because at one minute past five, we were out the door of our office.  We would grab a big table and just sit there, eating shrimp steamed in Old Bay, talking about how crazy our jobs were, feeling more sane by the minute.

There’s a restaurant in Baltimore called Woodberry Kitchen, and we used to go there with our friends, Lisa and Eric, and take up space for two or three hours.  The food was great, but that’s not why we stayed so long.  In Scottsdale, Arizona, we went to one of those expensive restaurants where they grill meat and bring it to you on skewers.  I remember it fondly, not just because the food was excellent, but because we got the chance to catch up with Mark’s mom, Sally, and his sister’s son, Logan, and to see what an impressive young man he has grown up to be.

I remember when Mark’s brother, Scott, and his wife, Jen, and their young daughter came to visit us and we managed to enjoy breakfasts together in our kitchen, despite the fact that we had to keep moving down the table because the sun was shining with blinding vigor through the big window.

When I look back on my life, it won’t be to praise myself for that time I climbed a 40-foot wall and did a zip line, despite my awful fear of heights.  (Although I do recall the love and support of friends and my kids, and am grateful I am not still up there on that platform of terror.)  Instead, I’ll remember things like driving with my dad.  When he comes to visit us in Arizona, he likes to hit the road.  We’ve been down to the Sonoran Desert near Mexico, and up in northern Arizona, to the Painted Desert, to the Red Rocks of Sedona, and the tiny mountainside village of Jerome.  We have the radio on, but mostly we just talk for hours.

At our family reunion, we went to the beach.  Carole and I walked for what seemed like miles, our feet always in the water, the wind and sun in our faces, just talking.  Then we came back and with Mark, watched the six cousins play in the ocean.  There was a shark attack the next day at that same Isle of Palms beach.  But when I think back on that beautiful day, what I’m thinking about is the time spent with people I love.

I remember trail rides with Blair and, back in Virginia, with Mark, including a day when I took one for the team and smushed a giant horse fly on Prancer’s rear end with my bare hand.  I couldn’t let that bastard bite him.  I remember playing cards late at night, many nights, with Mark and Bradley, laughing and making up our own game rules and having a blast, then going for a food run well after midnight.  Hours doing farm chores side by side with Andy, or working puzzles with Josh, or reading aloud to all three kids.  Riding a slow ski lift in the summer to the top of Mount Humphries in Flagstaff with Mark, the kids and Andy’s best friend, Kevin, and watching clouds form from the snow that blew off the peak — we were up that high.  Sitting on my porch swing talking to my friend, Patrice.  Singing “Sound of Music” songs with my friend Karen in third grade.  Riding bikes and singing TV Western theme songs with my friend Kathy in junior high.  In high school, spending hours on the phone with my friend, Sheila, and driving around with Leigh Anne, stopping for late night doughnuts at Mr. Donut, where she worked.  We lived in Lexington, Kentucky, and we would drive around at night with the windows open, smelling the tobacco drying in the big barns.

In my dad’s neighborhood in South Carolina, we always walk down the hill to the Saluda River, which is cold for some reason.  We try to skip stones in it, but we never have the right angle, so they plop instead of skip, and we feel the cool breeze rising off the river and watch for the bubbles where fish come up to eat bugs.

None of my favorite memories have to do with cell phones, or multi-tasking, or trying to do too much, or worrying about stuff like money or thinking about work.

Instead, they’re all memories where I just realize for a second, “This is it, right here.”

I just finished writing a book with Patrick Walsh about the history of the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins.  It was founded by “Diamond Jim” Brady, a grateful patient of Hugh Hampton Young, the father of modern urology.

Diamond Jim loved to go out to eat with friends, and once described his preferred dining style this way:  “Whenever I sit down to a meal, I always make it a point to leave just four inches between my stomach and the edge of the table. And then, when I can feel ‘em rubbin’ together pretty hard, I know I’ve had enough.”

Clearly, the man ate too much, but he knew how to live.  He loved people, and people loved him back.

That’s what it’s all about.  This is it, right here.

©Copyright Janet Farrar Worthington