Don’t take life too seriously

Not long ago my little girl taught me a valuable lesson.  I should have learned it already because I have read this Bible verse dozens of times: “Do not take seriously all the words that are spoken (Ecclesiastes 7:21).” But certain lessons bloom late in the season; at least they bloom at all.

I tend to take life very seriously.  I pride myself in being a diligent and conscientious person and I find a certain amount of security in keeping things orderly in my life.  However, over the years I have learned that a chink in my armor is that often I take life and myself too seriously. Sometimes we grown-ups need to shed our propriety and civility and get a dose of the good medicine that comes from laughing.  When we are under the pressures that life brings, it is all important that we allow a bit of frivolity into our lives. There’s nothing like a nine-year-old in a barber shop to shake things up.

Rewind: After giving birth to three boys, my wife brought our little girl into the world. I remember the day well. We were pretty scared because it was a high-risk pregnancy fraught with difficulties. Because of the complications, there were fifteen medical personnel in the delivery room when the moment came. When Abbey was born, I was sure she was dead because she was purple and was not moving. But eventually things seemed to work out, and after some time in the NICU we took our daughter home.

The next years were difficult. Numbers help tell the story – thirteen surgeries, five thousand therapy appointments, and nine years of life on a feeding tube, to briefly summarize. One day early on she stopped speaking and making eye contact completely, which was a blow. The world of special needs and severe disability became the norm for our life.  When I stop to think that we have put twenty thousand miles on our minivan making trips to the hospitals and clinics, I wonder how my wife and I have kept our sanity.

I will fast-forward through the bulk of our experience. People going through these things can find a new normal for their life and make adjustments. They go through stages of shock and grief and acceptance and hopefully resolve as the years mount up. These days we have seen tons of progress; my little girl functions in society in a way that is very different from typical kids, but I kind of love it.

To the barber shop.   A few months ago I had a day off and we spent that day together.  Against my better judgment, I dared to take her to the barber shop with me. The probability of public humiliation is always high for us, but I had her in tow and I needed a haircut, so I decided to risk it. The truth is, in our world, you just have to live your life and not care too much what people might think.  What Solomon said.

As my hair was being trimmed, my daughter sat in the nearest empty chair, talking to everyone. She is incredibly smart, so after a few minutes she pretty much had control of the room, asking everyone around all sorts of random questions about their lives – their names, what kind of car they drive, and the like. Suddenly, the familiar song Free Fallin’ played on the radio overhead. Her eyes opened all the way, a huge grin hijacked her face, and she yelled out “I LOVE TOM PETTY!” And for the rest of my haircut she sang along at the top of her lungs, to the amazement of all the patrons. Everyone was smiling. How does she know all the words to this song? How does she know who Tom Petty is? Why does she show no restraint?

We got out of there alive and I’m sure we were the talk of the room once we did. Fortunately, this was one of her more civil and cuter moments; it could have gone much worse, as autism is not very predictable by any means. But we smiled the whole way home and sang more Tom Petty pretty loud together as we rolled down the road. Unfetter joy was on autopilot in her unpretentious, impossible-to-fake-it brain.

I was getting there too. Who cares what people think? We’re doing the best we can and it’s broken but it’s great. I can laugh at the mess and I can laugh in the mess. It’s in these times that the remembering not to take ourselves too seriously keeps us going.

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