The foundation of happiness is mindfulness. The basic condition for being happy is our consciousness of being happy. If we are not aware that we are happy, we are not really happy. When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them. (From Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh)
Just now I closed my eyes and paid attention to my non-toothache. My mouth looks like a demolition derby in there, so I can vouch for the venerable Buddhist monk’s counsel. And sometimes I think my soul looks like my teeth—cracked, patched up, cavernous, important pieces missing.
Just now, with open eyes, I took in a full breath and enjoyed the air flowing back out past my throat and through my nose. My body, relaxed and light, isn’t cramped with any of the absurdities my mind habitually puts it through by narrating potholes into sinkholes and possibilities into finalities.
Happiness is fantastic, but okay will do. Hold the drama-trauma, blue cheese, and skydiving, and I’ll likely be fine. My job is to pray-meditate, walk mindfully, and swaddle Overthinking, kiss its spongy head, and shush it to sleep.
Even inclement days are sweet when my chops aren’t being busted and when I refuse to itch old scars open. Last Friday was one of those days. Weather has never bothered me, but Friday, November 13, 2015, was stern. Each chilly, gust-whipped raindrop was a slap on the cheek.
Poor daughter Elena couldn’t take Cole, now a Ninja of motion, to the playground, which is why I received a call at 10:11 a.m. Toddlers can turn homes into Thunderdomes.
“Hi, Daddy.” Was that a quiver of desperation in her soft greeting? “I was just wondering what your schedule was like today, if maybe you wanted to do lunch or something.”
Here’s a summary of our negotiations:
1.) Elena: Could we please not have lunch at my house? [X]
2.) Elena: There’s a play place at the [Millcreek] Mall. Maybe we could get a Starbucks and let Cole play there for a while. [X]
3.) Daddy: Then we could find somewhere to have lunch. [X]
4.) Elena: There is a God. [X]
We met at noon-ish, fed quarters to a fire truck and convertible, picked up coffee, and settled in at the official play place—and by settled in I mean kept Cole from making a break for the concourse, which he did four times, and from dispensing hand sanitizer until his fingers were raw.
After ten minutes of crawling through tunnels and nearly colliding with a dozen or so children of other desperate parents, he announced “Cole done” and copped a few sips of Pop’s decaf latte. Next he gnawed an eggroll and noodles while Elena and I had bourbon chicken.
Then it was time to go. An hour with a toddler doesn’t allow for segues: ride the choo choo train, slip and almost fall on the padded turtle, get hurt feelings because the thick-boned boy hopped on the tug boat ahead of you, sample coffee, squeeze duck sauce on your egg roll, and refuse to hold Pop’s hand when it’s time to go home.
So we ran together, my little buddy’s jelly bones all akimbo. Before we reached the door, Elena insisted: “Do you want to ride in the stroller or let Pop carry you?”
Bullets of rain got us right away. Cole’s face pinched in, and two steps later I felt his head settle on my shoulder.
“Aw, are you getting tired, buddy?” I said.
“No,” Elena said. “That’s what he does when it’s too windy.”
I must say, mindfulness is getting to be a habit for me, and it’s not for nothing. My bald spot and glasses were getting pelted, but so-the-hell what? A grandparent is made for the moment when the grandchild leans in. Love, fatigue, or safety could be the reason, but who cares? I still haven’t figured out exactly what a parent is made for, mainly because I was a trembling neurotic in that role. But Pop, I’m meant to be a shoulder for my grandson. The rest of me—I sometimes believe—is vestment.
“You okay, pal?” I said.
“Yeah.” One lilting syllable, almost a chirp.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that mindfulness can turn neutral into joyful. A non-toothache is hardly noteworthy. Neither is being able to breathe through your nose. Standard operations, that’s all. A two-year-old using his grandfather’s shoulder to hide from cold rain is about the same—thirty unremarkable seconds across the parking lot to the car.
Commonplace but for one truth: while my embrace kept Cole dry and warm, I found my own shelter from the elements.