Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Buddhists Had a Word for It

The Laughing Buddha
Sometimes I forget to count my blessings. Sometimes I even feel gripped by jealousy or envy. Does that ever happen to you? Here's a story I wrote this morning, reminding myself that every day, at my age, brings something to feel joy about.

Aglow is Me

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”~Helen Keller

Frank and I serve as one another’s “fail-safes.” Because we’re both octogenarians who live alone, we prize the assurance of knowing we’re still alert and alive at daybreak and bedtime. We take turns calling one another every morning at 7:30 and every night at 10. 

So, though it’s a joy to hear the phone jingle at these anticipated times, when it rang close to midnight, I ran to my computer desk to snatch up the receiver with my right hand, while my left hand flew to cover my suddenly thudding heart.

I blinked rapidly, bad news possibilities crowding my mind. Did he need a ride to the ER? Was there another leaky water pipe? Had something happened to a grandchild?

I’d been on a bad luck streak the past several days. It had started when I’d taken my car in for what I thought would be a minor adjustment to the air conditioner. Instead, I’d learned that the engine needed major repairs. The following day, when I recovered it from the shop, my lunchtime tryst with Frank had been spoiled when I backed into a yellow safety stanchion in the restaurant parking lot, denting the back fender.

Even the check I’d requested from my credit union to cover these unexpected repair bills hadn’t arrived the day I expected it, apparently lost in the mail. I’d even phoned my son, who is on all my financial accounts, and he hadn’t received it either.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to expect good news. Earlier that day I’d closed an email to my best friend with I’d even closed an email to my closest friend with the words “woe is me.” 

 “Sorry to call you so late, sweetheart, but you’d said earlier you were going to be reading for a while.”

“What’s happened?” I asked, raking my fingers through my bangs. I was hoping whatever it was wouldn’t require me to get dressed and drive to his condominium a dozen miles away. Of course, I’d do it, I reminded myself. After all, he’d do it for me.

Before he could respond, I continued. “Are you all right? Do you need to go to the ER?”

“Calm down, honey. It’s wonderful news,” he said.

“It better be at this hour,” I said. “My heart’s pounding. I’d expected the worst.”

“Remember that story you helped me edit? The one about the fire at my synagogue?”

A retired university professor, Frank had published several scholarly articles and even a book. For the past year, though, he’d been working on some personal pieces, and a historical novel.   I’d been helping him adopt a more informal style. He’d worked on a piece about how members of two completely different religious faiths had banded together. I’d helped him shape it and revise it. Finally, we decided it was time to submit it for consideration to an anthology.

“Sure,” I said, remembering how I’d hoped he wouldn’t be too disappointed if his first submission wasn’t accepted. These days there’s enormous competition for publication in anthologies. Even I, who’d had been writing true stories for nearly a decade. hadn’t received many acceptances recently…just another reason I no longer expected happy news.

I waited impatiently for Frank to continue. “Well?” I barked.

“I got an email from the editor that it’s under consideration for publication.”

A tingle started at my toes and worked its way up to my scalp. My cheeks felt flushed, and my fingers trembled as they clutched the phone.

“That’s wonderful news, sweetheart. Wonderful. I can’t believe how happy that makes me feel.”

Frank laughed. “I knew you’d be delighted. I so much appreciate all the suggestions you made. I didn’t check my email today until I got home from a meeting…and even though I knew how late it was, I couldn’t resist phoning.”

“You’ve given me a lovely way to close the day,” I said. “This is my second piece of good news. You remember I told you once that my Grandma Gertie insisted that good things come in three?”

“Why threes? Why good things? After all, it’s three strikes and you’re out.”

I smiled. Frank and I both love research. I’m always consulting the Oxford English Dictionery and he’s constantly checking his Encyclopedia of Judaica. Once when I’d complained that while I knew that “schadenfreude” was the German word for pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, I didn’t know what its antonym was, the opposite that meant taking joy in others’ good fortune. 

Frank had looked it up. “Mudita,” he’d told me. “It’s Sanskrit. It means unselfish joy in the good fortune of others.”

Even though it was the witching hour (and I planned to look up the origin of that phrase the next day), I couldn’t resist explaining how Grandma had arrived at her conclusion. 

“Well, she explained that here on the third planet from the sun, three wise men once traveled to a faraway manger to greet a newborn baby. But a few years ago, I’d looked up ‘third time’s a charm,’ in the Oxford English Dictionery, and it apparently traces back to Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor.” 

I could hear Frank’s grandfather clock begin to toll twelve in the background. I needed to say goodnight. Once we got started on etymology, Frank and I could go on for hours.

“Honey, it’s midnight. Thanks so much for letting me know your good news. I’m all aglow for you.”

“Wait! What are the other two good things that happened to you today?”

“Only two so far. While we’ve been talking, I’ve been checking my email. I have one from my son who says that the credit union sent my check to his address. It’s not lost after all. But I’m certain a third will come along. Maybe I’ll have sweet dreams about you.” 

I crawled back into bed, assured that Frank would be calling me at 7:30 to make certain I was safe. I felt aglow with vicarious joy, thrilled for Frank and his news that his story had a chance at publication and that I’d been able to help him.

Our phone calls to each other automatically counted as two good things that happened every single day, I realized before drifting off to sleep. Then it struck me. That we both were alive and alert, and able to answer our phones, was a third thing right there. Why hadn’t I seen that?

I could hardly wait for our morning call to remind Frank that we opened our days with a fail-safe “mudita.”
Frank editing his novel on the Queen Elizabeth Indian Ocean cruise


  1. Such a story of affirmation and love. Beautiful!

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