As one calendar year comes to an end and another is ushered in, one cannot help but attach some significance to this astronomical meridian, and to mark the passage of time from a uniquely personal perspective. Since I am something of a “score-keeper”, I note as I write this column that it is the 29,424th day of my life on planet Earth, and I try – I think – to make each one count. The decision to take seriously Thoreau’s challenge to live more “deliberately” became more deeply rooted by a discovery I happened upon more than 25 years ago. It was then I began keeping my “Happiness Calendar”.
The concept is so straightforward and simple – even a bit “corny” – that it took me awhile to recognize it as a profundity. The idea is to discover and write down one “happy” event each week, taking time at the end of each month to weigh, measure, ponder thoughtfully and write a paragraph or two about the “winner”. By the year’s end, therefore, one has the sweet challenge of narrowing the growing list down to a few favorites; a task by the way, which is a payoff in riches untold, because with it comes the dawning (thundering) discovery of just how much we have been missing previously in our casual stroll through this thing we call life.
Because I have always been a “list-maker”, carrying a few index cards in a pocket had become a daily habit, so my “happiness calendar” entries began humbly with a few words written on-the-spot as it was. In time, some of these mini-notes became entire essays, later short stories to be shared with family members or audiences. Not just “happy things”, but observations seen and heard, profound lessons learned, interesting new words, pieces of new knowledge, the song of a hermit thrush, a single phrase from a piece of music or a bit of unexpected whimsy in a chance conversation; all became fodder for a waiting 3x5 pocket card and a monthly story-line. And the more I perfected my powers of discovery, the more I found my life being enriched by the “little things” going on all around me and every day. Nowadays, I seem to run across something powerful, humorous, eye-opening, mind-bending or just plain too-doggone important to pass up on a near-daily basis, so it has to go somewhere in my “rainbow archives”.
Keeping track of my lifetime list of such “sunbursts of the mind” eventually became an administrative challenge, with index cards overflowing, yet needed so that I could revisit these glimpses into a growing storehouse of memories. A great scholar once introduced me to the idea that our brain is made up of a myriad of file boxes and cubbyholes which we could learn to access by a labeling system of key words. And that became my answer; my “open sesame” to stories numbered in the hundreds, but too important to ever lose sight of. My list of inspiring stories (now digitally recorded) reads like this: Squire’s pig; the field of shoes; Scott’s stone wall; Jalapa sunrise; The new roof; Maxwell’s peas; 25 dollars & a blind dog; Grandma Jarvis’s Carolina Poplar; Shaktolik; Letters from Mary; Della’s peach tree; Fiddler in the woods; The .22 caliber violin; Moose antler Xmas, and more than 200 additional sets of key words, each of which is sufficient to call to mind a ten-minute monologue or a 2000-word short story. And a lifetime of simple adventures I can relive at a moment’s notice.
The Scottish writer and dramatist James Barrie (best known for giving us Peter Pan), once said: “God gave us the gift of memory that we might have June roses in the November of our years”. I believe that to be true. Thanks to my “Happiness Calendar”, I believe I have found a way to help that process along.