Category Archives: Happiness

“Get the peaches!”

Like many folk, I reflect on the year past and the one yet to come as one year turns to the next. Maybe because Christmas, New Year’s, and my birthday happen in a seven day smash-up, I get extra existential and ponder not only the meaning of my life but all life.

A message doesn’t appear on a wall, nor lightning in the sky as I muse. Instead, I annually reaffirm the need to accept ambiguity. I also reaffirm that the purpose of life is to bring as much love and wholeness into the world as possible: to bring joy, beauty, compassion and peace wherever we are; and to connect mortals with the Divine who is known by many names and in whom we live and move and have our being.

Fame is not the purpose of human life. Love and goodness are. Sometimes we get to see a bit of the difference our love makes, but in this life, we never see all the ramifications of our actions. Love makes a beautiful mosaic beyond our mind’s ability to imagine.

In the midst of my pondering, a friend sent me a Los Angeles Times article. It reminded me that the purpose of my life once again is to fill in my part of that mosaic. Bob’s Christmas gift to me is now my New Year’s gift to you.

I Didn’t Say Get the Story. I Said Get the Kid His Peaches.

It happened one Christmas Eve a long time ago in a place called Oakland on a newspaper called the Tribune with a city editor named Alfred P. Reck.

I was working swing shift on general assignment, writing the story of a boy who was dying of leukemia and whose greatest wish was for fresh peaches.

It was a story which, in the tradition of 1950s journalism, would be milked for every sob we could squeeze from it, because everyone loved a good cry on Christmas.

We knew how to play a tear-jerker in those days, and I was full of the kinds of passions that could make a sailor weep.

I remember it was about 11 o’clock at night and pouring rain outside when I began putting the piece together for the next day’s editions.

Deadline was an hour away, but an hour is a lifetime when you’re young and fast and never get tired.

Then the telephone rang.

It was Al Reck calling, as he always did at night, and he’d had a few under his belt.

Reck was a drinking man. With diabetes and epilepsy, hard liquor was about the last thing he ought to be messing with, but you didn’t tell Al what he ought to or ought not to do.

He was essentially a gentle man who rarely raised his voice, but you knew he was the city editor, and in those days the city editor was the law and the word in the newsroom.

But there was more than fear and tradition at work for Al.

We respected him immensely, not only for his abilities as a newsman, but for his humanity. Al was sensitive both to our needs and the needs of those whose names and faces appeared in the pages of the Oakland Tribune.

“What’s up?” he asked me that Christmas Eve in a voice as soft and slurred as a summer breeze.

He already knew what was up because, during 25 years on the city desk, Reck somehow always knew what was up, but he wanted to hear it from the man handling the story.

I told him about the kid dying of leukemia and about the peaches and about how there simply were no fresh peaches, but it still made a good piece. We had art and a hole waiting on page one.

Al listened for a moment and then said, “How long’s he got?”

“Not long,” I said. “His doctor says maybe a day or two.”

There was a long silence and then Al said, “Get the kid his peaches.”

“I’ve called all over,” I said. “None of the produce places in the Bay Area have fresh peaches. They’re just plain out of season. It’s winter.”

“Not everywhere. Call Australia.”

“Al,” I began to argue, “it’s after 11 and I have no idea . . . . ”

“Call Australia,” he said, and then hung up.

If Al said call Australia, I would call Australia.

I don’t quite remember whom I telephoned, newspapers maybe and agricultural associations, but I ended up finding fresh peaches and an airline that would fly them to the Bay Area before the end of Christmas day.

There was only one problem. Customs wouldn’t clear them. They were an agricultural product and would be hung up at San Francisco International at least for a day, and possibly forever.

Reck called again. He listened to the problem and told me to telephone the Secretary of Agriculture and have him clear the peaches when they arrived.

“It’s close to midnight,” I argued. “His office is closed.”

“Take this number down,” Reck said. “It’s his home. Tell him I told you to call.”

It was axiomatic among the admirers of Al Reck that he knew everyone and everyone knew him, from cops on the street to government leaders in their Georgetown estates. No one knew how Al knew them or why, but he did.

I made the call. The secretary said he’d have the peaches cleared when they arrived and give Al Reck his best.

“All right,” Reck said on his third and final call to me, “now arrange for one of our photographers to meet the plane and take the peaches over to the boy’s house.”

He had been drinking steadily throughout the evening and the slurring had become almost impossible to understand.

By then it was a few minutes past midnight, and just a heartbeat and a half to the final deadline.

“Al,” I said, “if I don’t start writing this now I’ll never get the story in the paper.”

I won’t forget this moment.

“I didn’t say get the story,” Reck replied gently. “I said get the kid his peaches.”

If there is a flash point in our lives to which we can refer later, moments that shape our attitudes and effect our futures, that was mine.

Alfred Pierce Reck had defined for me the importance of what we do, lifting it beyond newsprint and deadline to a level of humanity that transcends job. He understood not only what we did but what we were supposed to do.

“I didn’t say get the story. I said get the kid his peaches.”

The boy got his peaches and the story made the home edition, and I received a lesson in journalism more important than any I’ve learned since.

I wanted you to know that this Christmas Day.
By Al Martinez
December 25, 1986, 12:38 p.m.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

It is enough for me. Happy New Year.

When a Wasted Day Wasn’t

Last Wednesday I completed only three small items on my to-do list. At noon, I suddenly felt like 100 pound weights were attached to each arm and I was exhausted. I lay on the sofa for the rest of the day, growing increasingly frustrated at my body for not cooperating. “What a wasted day!” I complained to myself repeatedly.

Realizing that something was wrong (duh), I called my doctor. She explained that what was happening was caused by a shortage of cortisol in my system. My my adrenal gland had having gone on vacation while I took prednisone to keep my airways open. Now we are trying to call my adrenal gland back from vacation so I can make my own cortisol again in the necessary quantities. What I was experiencing was to be expected. She explained how to keep my system stable and gave a roadmap for diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding why my body was misbehaving didn’t reduce my frustration, however. Instead, it increased as reality settled in and I realized this exhaustion would happen every day for weeks.

I was not only frustrated at my body for not doing what I wanted it to do. Now I was frustrated and angry at myself for not being able to take my own advice and accept that my life had suddenly changed again. “Walk your talk, Barbara. Adapt to change.” No matter how many times I said it, it didn’t seem to help. Talk about doing a double whammy on myself!

Gritting my teeth in anger, I took deep, cleansing breaths and replayed some of what I supposedly know:

  • I have the ability to decide how I will respond to whatever is happening. 
  • I can choose to be angry and frustrated or I can lean into accepting a temporary loss of energy as part diagnosing and treating a new health issue. 
  • I can rage against my new limitations or I can choose to be thoughtful and disciplined in how I use the hours each morning when I have energy. 
  • I can creatively bring beauty, goodness and depth even to the hours I need to rest.

By nightfall I realized my day hadn’t been wasted, after all. It gave my endocrinologist important data for ascertaining how well or poorly my adrenal gland is recovering from the prolonged prednisone use that had kept my airways open. That day’s experience reminded me how dangerous adrenal insufficiency can be and that taking time to address this issue is important. It affirmed the wisdom of my seeking an endocrinologist’s help, and the importance both of listening to my body and of being my own advocate.   Oddly, that day gave me hope that with determination, creativity and grace I can choose to respond well to this new challenge.

My non-wasted day reminded me that sometimes the most important item on our to-do list is doing that which is necessary to care for our health.

***Background Note: Corticosteroids such as prednisone have become essential in treating a range of illnesses and conditions. They save lives. They also have to be managed carefully under medical supervision. In addition to healing and sustaining life, they can cause weight gain, skin discoloration, irritability, and dangerous mood swings. Long term use can also cause cataracts, bone density loss, and diabetes. Withdrawing from them too quickly can cause permanent tendon damage and life-threatening adrenal insufficiency. Do not consider them a panacea. Corticosteroids are both friend and foe.

Growing Happiness

“There’s an idea I came across a few years ago that I love,” says Michael J. Fox.  “My happiness grows in direct proportion [to] my acceptance and in inverse proportion to my expectations….That’s the key for me.  If I can accept the truth of ‘This is what I’m facing–not what can I expect but what I am experiencing now–‘ then I have all this freedom to do other things.”

For Fox, acceptance translates into a positive attitude in the face of his Parkinson’s Disease.*

During four recent months of health setbacks and gradual recovery, I worked hard to “grow happiness” instead of just being frustrated and depressed.  It was nearly four months of seldom leaving the house, of rarely attending church or being able to hold a conversation, of not seeing friends or going out even for coffee, of cancelling trips and seldom being on the computer.

In order to grow happiness instead of frustration, I had to accept my limitations and adjust my expectations to what was possible.  Aargh!

80919389_0ea063f00b[1]My technique was each day to imagine myself holding a salad plate in my hands.  I imagined life as a feast spread on a banquet table before me from which I could fill my plate.  Because I had a salad plate instead of a dinner plate to fill, my options were more limited than usual and I did best if I was intentional about my choice.  Imagining a smaller array of items on my plate helped me focus on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t.  It helped me remember that every choice I make about how to use my energy and time is important.

Dietitians say that when we eat from smaller and not larger plates we are more likely to eat healthier sized portions of food.  We tend to savor each bite of food more and feel satiated with smaller portions.  We avoid the guilt and physical discomfort that often attend gluttony.

Sometimes I made it into the Clean Plate Club.  Then I might choose to go back for more.  But if I could not finish what I had with anticipation put on my plate, I found my disappointment was less than if I had filled a larger plate with an overabundance of expectations.  I grew happiness by putting life on a salad plate.

For over a month I had to downsize to a saucer, which meant limiting myself to only one or two choices per day.  I kept my focus, put one foot in front of the other, and eventually changed back to a dessert plate.  I hope to step up to a salad plate this week.  Hooray!  It is incredibly exciting to plan what options I might choose.  Strange….but true:  Acceptance of the truth and expectations right for the day do grow happiness.

Of course, I still wish I had a larger plate, much as I wish my metabolism was as fast as when I was 17-years-old.  I still dislike turning away from food I love and stuff I want to do.  But whether I had health issues or not, I know that trying to consume or do everything I want makes me unable to enjoy anything as much as it deserves.  Small plates are a good idea for many reasons.

*”Feeling Alright. Oh, Yeah.”, by David Hochman, AARP Magazine, April/May 2013
*Photo “Russian New Year’s Feast” by Adam Baker, Baker