I typically don’t read many Facebook status updates—and I especially don’t read them multiple times—but this particular one stopped me cold. It was an observation shared by my friend Nicki Salcedo. Whether penning a novel, an op-ed piece or a Facebook status update, Nicki’s words never fail to provide enlightenment and introspection.
This was Nicki’s informal, yet powerful observation:
“Nighttime soccer practice. I see a family I know. They have back-to- back practices for their girls. That amounts to three hours of soccer on a Tuesday night.
Me: “Wow, you guys have a long night.”
Dad: “Yeah, but I’ve got to head over and cut my son’s hair. He has cancer. He’s in the hospital. I’m going to Northside.”
It is 7:30 pm at night. We live across town from that hospital. The dad leaves. He calls his daughter the best nickname when she plays. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer, but he’s learning.
I think about all these angry parents. Angry people. For what? They have everything and want more.
The quiet ones simply enjoy seeing their kids kick a ball.”
It was no mystery why I read Nicki’s observation three times.
Nor was it any mystery why her words made me cry.
I was that angry person.
I know because my husband had the courage to tell me. Something along the lines of: You walk around the house looking angry all the time. Your face is always set in a scowl.
He’d said it before–probably a bit more subtly the first or second time–but I always shrugged it off. After all, my husband didn’t know what my life was like. He had no idea the amount of tasks and responsibilities I managed, handled and completed. The fact that he didn’t angered me even more.
Getting ready for my children’s sports practices and events really brought out the monster in me. As I prepared the necessary items, navigated traffic and unfamiliar roads and set up chairs and coolers, my scowl was securely in place. I could manufacture a smile when someone outside the family approached us. My husband had once mentioned I saved my smiles for the outside world. That one hurt, but it didn’t change my approach. Perpetually Irritated By Life had become my jam.
I remember sitting in my pop-up chair at my daughter Avery’s mini-kicker soccer practice one Sunday afternoon. It was too hot for September, it was too disorganized for little kids, it was too expensive for what we were getting... Why are we even here? I grumbled to myself.
In stark contrast to me was Avery’s beautiful and vibrant young soccer coach guiding my child with positive words and a loving tone. I saw the way my stop-and-smell-the-roses child gravitated toward Coach Lindsey whose smile was brighter than the sun they played beneath.
I didn’t know Lindsey well, but I could tell just by watching her that it would take a lot to ruffle her feathers. Some people are just joyful like that.
Other people aren’t.
Other people choose to become that way.
While watching the beautiful connection happening between a joyful little girl and a joyful young woman, I felt something stir inside me. That day, noticing their mutual joy was better than watching the clock, the score or the many annoyances going around me.
On the final practice of the season, Coach Lindsey walked up to me with her business card. “I don’t usually do this, but if you ever need a babysitter for your precious girls, I would love to babysit. I just adore Avery, and I bet Natalie is just as delightful,” she said.
I felt myself tear up. Our family was still fairly new to the area and we had no family nearby. I had yet to find a babysitter I felt I could trust. But with my husband traveling most of the week, I was often exhausted. Lindsey’s offer felt providential. I accepted with gratitude.
Lindsey quickly became our go-to sitter, never failing to show up with an abundance of joy. When she stepped into our house, the environment lightened, brightened and lifted. That’s what joyful people do.
When I returned from my evening outings, Lindsey and I would often stand on the porch and she would tell me all the little details she noticed about my girls. She couldn’t believe the way Avery could sing and play the ukulele. She couldn’t get over her delightful disposition. With my older daughter Natalie, she was amazed at the thoughtful questions she asked at bedtime and the care and concern she had for adult issues like poverty, homelessness and war.
Under the porch light, I’d soak up every good and precious thing Lindsey noticed about my children–the beautiful details I failed to see in my perpetually irritated state.
I needed a new goal. I realized one night as Lindsey drove away.
Because when you base your happiness on tasks being completed, notes being in pitch, plans running accordingly and hairs being in place, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.
I wanted my goal to be joy: Did I see it? Did I grasp it? Did I exude it? Did I personify it? Did I spread it?
“See flowers not weeds.”
“A little more time can be a miraculous thing.”
“Happiness beats perfection.”
“Have my loved ones heard me laugh today?”
I created several positive mantras I could recite in my mind, post on my walls, and write on my hand. I practiced them over and over, especially prior to situations when my irritable monster typically came out.
Throughout the past five years, these mantras have loosened my tightly wound inner fiber, softened my heart and altered my perspective, but I am a work in progress. My Type-A, task-driven, highly-efficient self still has her moments. Just this weekend, as I became lost on my way to a swim meet, I felt rage bubbling up inside me. Unexpectedly, a new mantra popped into my head:
“Why so angry? I have everything and want more.”
They were Nicki’s words and they helped me breathe. I turned and smiled at my little girl who is not so little anymore and said, “We’ll, get there, baby. Thanks for being patient with me.”
Avery flashed me her joyful smile. Thank God, she didn’t have to brace herself for curse words, squealing tires and angry tears. This was a better way.
My friends, my scowling days are a period of my life that I’d rather not speak of, but I felt compelled to talk about it today. I’ve noticed there are a lot of angry people–not just on soccer fields and baseball diamonds, but also in parking lots, subways, checkout lines, churches and arenas. There are angry people waiting for elevators, walking down corridors, posting on social media and standing behind podiums. Perhaps there’s an angry person living in your house, inhabiting your body. Quick to anger is becoming our jam.
I’d like to gently point out there’s a better way.
Because things look a lot different when you lose the scowl.
Because things look a lot different when you notice there’s a human being taking in those angry words.
Because things look a lot different when you hold your current annoyance against the fragility of life.
Perhaps a new goal is in order.
Choosing to be joyful so you attract joy like a magnet.
Choosing to be joyful so it shows on your face and in your words.
Choosing to be joyful because that’s where the real living’s at.
I’ve heard from a reliable source there’s nothing that’ll ease your troubles like watching a happy child kick a ball on a crisp autumn evening.
I think that sounds about right.