How To Ensure Your Life Is Beautiful
When I first stepped foot in Florida everything was enchanting. I drove my wife crazy as I pointed out the big, exotic birds. My seashell collection drove her nuts, too, because she said I was a big kid. But we both ooh’d and ahh’d as we drove past the roller coasters at Busch Gardens. And we couldn’t drive past the ocean without lowering the window.
Maybe two weeks after moving to town I remember sitting at an auto repair shop as the owner chatted with me to pass the time. I was telling him about the gator I saw on a river next to my complex and about the banana spider hanging outside the window.
“Yea, I remember not wanting to ever lose the joy of seeing a palm tree,” he said. “Those things were special.”
But he never said whether he succeeded or not.
Likewise, I didn’t want to lose that joy, either. And I remember working with some locals who said it was too cold to go to the beach in October. What are you, crazy? I thought. We were piling beach chairs, towels, sunscreen and an umbrella into our Honda Accord nearly every weekend, and the first New Year’s Day in Florida my wife and I both jumped into the ocean.
I dialed up my friends back home to give them an earful about how people wore Winter coats and scarves when it was 50 degrees outside. I couldn’t believe it. And I really couldn’t believe that the next year I, too, would be wearing Winter coats and turning down swims in the ocean water any time past Labor Day.
‘Everyplace Is The Same’
Hanging on my living room wall is a beautiful painting of a city street. It used to stun us every time we walked in the room, but each time it did so less and less and pretty soon we stopped noticing it altogether. It wasn’t any less beautiful, but after our eyes adjusted to it enough times that it pretty much just blended into the wall.
When visitors drop by they stop and stare at the painting to talk about how brilliant the colors are. This helps us notice the painting, but just for that moment. Then it fades back into the wall. Unfortunately, this also applies to life.
Experiences beat out things 10 times out of 10. The beauty of those things never fade.
We were helping a young woman recently who had run into some problems with drugs and added to a long history of bad choices. She was trying to get clean and had gotten involved at the church we were attending, the Underground Network. It was our last night together so we thought we’d taken her to Dairy Queen.
“So, what do you think of Tampa?” I asked her.
She took a break from her cookie dough blizzard. She sighed and slouched her shoulders. “Ugh. I hate it,” she said. “I moved here from Dallas because I wanted to get involved at Underground and to get away from Dallas. I thought for sure Tampa would be better, but it wasn’t. Every place I go there’s the same stuff. You think it’s going to be different but it’s the same.”
When I tell people we are moving from Tampa to Sioux Falls everyone reacts the same. They look like some just sprayed them in the face with water and then say “you’re doing what!?”
Thankfully I already learned two things in life: 1. Paintings fade into the background, and 2. Every place is ultimately the same. I, too, thought Tampa was going to be a sweet haven. I envisioned that every time my wife and I opened the front door to sun and blue skies we’d hold each other close with Etta James ‘At Last’ ringing in the background.
But the beauty faded into the worries about bills or the nagging project at work. It got lost in the career objectives and marital issues. It wasn’t as interesting as ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Mad Men.’ So eventually I let it go.
And I am okay with that. I’m not worried about whether or not the auto repairman still thinks palm trees are beautiful, because that isn’t what life is about. Life’s beauty is in people and relationships. Paintings are beautiful, but they don’t keep us warm at night. Our love for one another is what doesn’t fade. Give that everything you’ve got.