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Parables

The Old Man, The Journalist, and The Pursuit of Life – PART 2

 November 19, 2019

By  David N Johnson

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If you haven’t read it yet, here is a link to part one.

Happiness isn’t the end of the story; it’s the beginning, ” the old man said just before taking a long drink of his orange juice.

Setting his glass back down on the breakfast table, he continued, “the trick is understanding that once you realize happiness is a choice that it’s something you must continually develop.

So, it’s kind of like a muscle?” Asked the journalist.

Exactly!”

It had been one week since the two had first met in the old man’s den. They had decided to meet over breakfast that morning because, as the old man said, “you gotta eat, don’t ya?

They sat at a table for six and ordered enough food for 10. The old man insisted on ordering a little of everything on the menu. There were stacks of chocolate chip pancakes, blueberry pancakes, stuffed French toast, waffles, and both sweet and savory crepes. There were three kinds of toast and different types of omelets, sausage and fruit, five types of juice, and even steak. Not to mention hash browns, home fries, and multiple kinds of eggs benedict with salmon, crab cake, and the traditional ham.

The journalist took a bite of salmon slathered in hollandaise and egg yolk. He savored its complex flavors of smoke & lemon and the buttery, creamy texture of the fish.

Setting his fork down, he asked, “the last time we spoke, you said there was a downside to being happy. What did you mean by that?”

It’s not a downside per se. Instead, it’s a warning, of sorts.” He stopped to pop a grape into his mouth. “Happiness. And I’m talking about true honest to God happiness. The kind that lasts, not the fleeting kind that leaves you empty inside after the happy moment is over, can make you lose your ambition.

Looking more than a little perplexed, the journalist said, “you’re going to have to explain that one to me!” His sentence punctuated with a chuckle.

Of course, after all, that’s why we’re here.” He paused long enough to point to a thick slice of banana bread. “You’re gonna want to try a slice of that!”

Be More So That You Can Do More

Not too long after my awakening, I learned quickly just how fleeting happiness could be. I found myself slipping back into depression. It would creep up on me, slowly at first, and before I knew it, I’d find myself sitting around thinking about nothing except how horrible my life was.

At that point, I had only experienced unbridled happiness a hand full of times, nothing more vivid than the day after I woke up from my meeting with Jasper. I tried everything, from journaling what I was grateful for to self-affirmations, exercise, and positive thinking. They all worked, of course, but none of it ever lasted.

By that time, I was about six months removed from the night I almost ended my life and had found work at a small non-profit. It was far removed from my days at Matters & Jameson, where I practiced corporate law, but poverty law brought with it its own rewards. I assisted in civil rights cases, mostly where my focus was on helping people who were unlawfully targeted based on their race and socioeconomic status.

The pay wasn’t anywhere near what I was used to, but my life was in a much better place because of it.

As with most of my weekends, I’d spend time at the soup kitchen that the non-profit I worked for ran. I had an office that overlooked the dining room and offered legal advice for anybody that needed it. I mostly helped with the roadblocks that prevented the homeless from receiving benefits.

I was sitting in my office one day looking into the dining room just as lunch was getting started. As always, there was a long line of people waiting to be served. By then, I recognized most of the people in line as they waited somberly for the lunch service to begin. I was tracing the line of frowns down the line when I happened upon a face that I hadn’t seen in six months, Jasper.

He had a massive smile on his face and was looking right at me. With almost too much enthusiasm, he walks right up to me and puts his arms around me.

I’m really happy to see you!” He says as he squeezes me.

I hug him back, a single tear rolling down my cheek. “I’m happy to see you, too!”

After getting back in line and getting his lunch, Jasper sits down at my desk. “Is this seat taken?” He says, with a glint in his eye.

Not at all, ” I said. “You know, you saved my life that night.”

Did I now?” He says, winking. “I did nothing but share my wine with you.”

You did more than that.”

You looked like you could use a friend. I figured I could use one too. Funny how things work out like that.”

That was when I looked at him for the first time, I mean really looked at him. He was probably in his 50’s but looked older. His skin, the color of mahogany, was lined and weathered. His clothes were tattered and dirty. He had a smear of dirt on his face that started just under his left eye and ended down by the corner of his mouth. A scar intersected the lines on his forehead, deep and ragged. But, his eyes. They were golden brown and seamed to be backlit. They were sincere and intelligent. His smile, toothless as it were, brought me joy.

Is there anything that I can do for you, Jasper?”

No, nothing you haven’t done already.

But, I haven’t done anything for you, ” I say, confused.

You’re alive, aren’t you? That’s all the thanks I need. Live your life, be who you’re destined to be.”

What about you, are you who you’re destined to be? It can’t be easy living on the streets.”

His smiled dropped. “Are you judging me?” He says in a stern voice.

Putting my hands up, I stammer, “No… I wasn’t. I… I… Was just… Wondering why…

Why I’m homeless?”

Yes.”

Because I choose to be.” He paused, his smile returning to his face. “Happiness without ambition is selfish.”

I’ll spare you the back and forth, as Jasper and I spoke for at least two hours that day.

That’s principle number 2 by the way: You have to be more so that you can do more.

Depression comes from playing a role. By NOT being your true self. When we live our lives out of sync with our inner selves, we find ourselves longing to be whole. If each of us lived up to our full potential and then taught others how to do the same, then this world would be a much better place.

If each of us lived up to our full potential and then taught others how to do the same, then this world would be a much better place.Click To Tweet

That’s what I was lacking. While I understood that happiness is a decision, depression still found me because I wasn’t living my life in relation to my ambition. I was out of sync. That’s what I meant by happiness can make you lose your ambition. If we focus on happiness, or any one thing for that matter, then we tend to lose focus on the bigger picture. If happiness is a metric then so is ambition and a few others we haven’t spoken about yet. Together they create a meaningful life.

I could say that I had lost myself, but the fact of the matter is that I never even had possession of who I was. I was lost. I was out of sync. I was depressed.

It takes some searching, but everything you need is right there inside of you. Often, we become depressed because we learn to settle for less than what our ambition requires. We lie to ourselves and say that we’re good where we are. That does nothing but causes us to live out of sync.

Take the time to listen to your ambition. Don’t quiet it. Stop pushing it down into the dark recesses of your mind because you can never truly lock it away. It will always be there. It will continually remind you what could have been and will cause you to compare your current life to how you imagine it could have been.

It’s during times of stress, anxiety, and longing that your true desires will start to bubble up from your subconscious where you tried to bury them. Instead of working to push them back down, examine them. Are they healthy ambitions? It so, figure out a way to make them a reality. Live with them for a time and flesh them out. Imagine how living your ambitions will change your life. A life well lived is a life worth pursuing. The pursuit of a MEANINGFUL life is a worthwhile endeavor.

The pursuit of a MEANINGFUL life is a worthwhile endeavor.Click To Tweet

So, follow your ambition, be grateful for every step of the journey, and learn how to give back.

***

It was that very same day that I started working on a business plan, one that would not only fulfill my ambitions but one that would also help the homeless around the city. I never imagined that it would grow into what it is today, but that’s for another story because my friends are here.”

As if on cue, a handful of people walked in the door, and headed straight for the table that the old man and the journalist occupied. They began sitting around the table, eating and laughing.

A few heads turned from the other dinners as they watched a group of homeless people eat breakfast but didn’t look at all surprised.

How often do you do do this?” The journalist asks.

Not enough, about four times a week.” He paused long enough to eat a chunk of watermelon. “I think that’s enough for today. Let’s meet again sometime next week, and we can talk about another principle. For now, let’s eat and be merry!”

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David N Johnson


David N Johnson

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