Things that can happen:

You can choose to be happy for the rest of your life. (Pick this one. Pick this one!)

You can  look for a soul mate, a kindred spirit to share your happy life with. ( I did not say that you were guaranteed to find them, but I can guarantee you won’t if you don’t get out there and look.)

You can share your happiness with others who are less fortunate than you. (Go read about Mother Teresa.)

You can live your life knowing you did the best you could with what you had. (Quit wanting what everybody else has. You don’t need it, and they probably don’t either.) 

You can leave this world a better place than it was when you got here. (That will not be a high bar, given the way the world is headed today…)

You can promise yourself that you will never feel guilty for a decision well-made. (Unless you are a good Catholic. Then, I give you a pass.)

You can make every effort to make good decisions. (You are reading this blog post. Great start!)

All of these you have direct control over. You can make them happen

Things that could happen:
You could fade into obscurity, and no one will even notice that you’re gone. (Are you kidding me? Have you heard of credit bureaus? The IRS?)

You could succumb to loneliness. (Not very likely that loneliness alone would kill you, but folks have tried…)

You could end up isolated like Howard Hughes, your Spruce Goose on the ground and your pee in a bottle. (Who wants that?)

You could become disconnected from every family member and every friend and every acquaintance you’ve ever had in this world and nobody would ever call you, ever. (Don’t you owe anybody money?) 

You could lose your ability to play the piano. (Oh? You never could play the piano? Skip this one, please.)

You could get depressed. Yes, this is a real one, folks. (I’m a shrink, remember?)

You could become completely and permanently disabled. (Do you know how many people come to my office trying to make me think that they are permanently disabled? Do you know how much work it takes to establish that you are truly disabled? See what I did there?)

You could fade into utter irrelevance, loved by few and remembered by none, a mere drop of ink on the rolled parchment of history. (Oh, good grief. Get over yourself, for Pete’s sake!)

Now, all of these you have very little control over, but really, how likely are any of these? If they happen, take action!

Things that will likely happen
You will have some kind of illness sometime in your life. It may be small. It may be metastatic cancer. You will go to the doctor, get that sucker diagnosed and treat the hell out it until you beat it or it beats you. Got it?

You will lose people that you love. We’ve all been there. A spouse. A sibling. A parent. A child. A favorite teacher. A mentor. 

You will be able to do the things at forty or fifty that you did at twenty, just a lot slower. (Thanks Marshall Rice, for that observation.)

You will not be able to do some of the things at seventy or eighty that you did at twenty. (I know, I know, my brain thinks it’s still twenty too, but one day my body will be way, way behind it.)

You will question who you are, why you are here, and if you are doing any good on this earth. (Go back up to the first group, read them again, and read about Mother Teresa like I told you to. You didn’t do it the first time, did you?)

You will have a crisis of faith. (What? You think you’re the only person who has ever had a deep thought, who questioned religion, life’s meaning and purpose and the existence of God? Again, after you read about Mother Teresa, please go get over yourself, then come back and finish this.)

Once again, all of these may not happen to you, but most of them will. No control here, just reaction and pushing ahead

Things that will happen to us all:
We will learn how very lucky we have been to be alive at this particular time, in this particular place, with our particular people. 

We will make our peace with God, as we have come to understand Him.

We will forgive, and we will pursue forgiveness. 

We will pass along the big and small things that we have learned to those that come after us. (They do listen and learn from us, even though sometimes we think they never hear a word we say.)

We will say our goodbyes, given the chance. 

We will be truly thankful.

We will die.

All of us, every one of us, will die. 

Now, I know that the world has been a very stressful place lately. I, like you, grieve for the loss of life, the loss of love and the chaos that is our modern world. I try to deal with it through writing and working and traveling and hiking and loving. 

Some of you deal with it in other ways. That’s okay. 

But I want to ask you just one thing, friends.

Given the things that can happen, could happen, will likely happen, and will happen, where do you suppose you ought to put your time, effort and attention today? 

Think about that, please, and live the best life you can with what you have. 



I saw a patient today who looked familiar to me from the moment she left the waiting room and headed down the hall toward my office. 

“Have I seen you before?” I asked, trying to recall.

“No, I don’t think so. No, I’m sure I’ve never seen you before,” she answered, a little befuddled at the circumstance and the question.

I weighed her, showed her to her seat and began the interview with the usual questions, accompanied by the now-commonplace clackity-clack of fingers on keys, second nature to me after a year of learning to “collaboratively document” my interactions with my patients. 

I know her.

She answered the usual demographic questions with little difficulty. Then, on to the reason for her being there, the things that lead up to her referral to us at the mental health center. 

As she told me her story, it became clearer that I had indeed heard it before. I had seen her before.

How did I know this? How did it become clear that she was someone I knew, had listened to before?

Her tone of voice was a giveaway. Somewhere in my brain, that nasal twang and breathy syntax was recorded. 

Her facial expression, or lack thereof, was another clue. She was almost flat affectively, with little movement of her facial muscles, little smiling, no animation.

Her mannerisms, the way she halted between sentences, the way she shifted in her chair, the way she paused. 

Her medical history, of course, as it came back to me when she recited it in detail for me again. 

Even her gait,  a little half-hitch, slightly off balance, shuffle out the door and back down the hall when we were done was another clue that yes, indeed, I had seen this lady before. No doubt in my mind now. 

She did not remember me, but I now remembered her. A quick check of some old records in the EMR confirmed what my brain had already been trying to convince itself of. 

I had seen her ten years before.  

So, isn’t it fascinating that our brains, our minds, can take in, process, catalogue, file away, organize and store memories of friendships past, patients seen, movies watched, music listened to, or sand felt between toes on a faraway beach when we were only six years old. These memories, coded according to certain key elements such as sounds or smells or feelings or emotions, are sometimes retrieved, almost pulled into our conscious minds, at what appears to be the slightest provocation. 

For me, these triggers, the things that bring these memories rushing back, are many. 

A touch, both my touching something or having someone touch me, can evoke tender or emotionally charged memories, almost instantly. 

Smells are a very powerful trigger, as I have written about before. Evergreen and peppermint mean Christmas. Clove and roasting turkey and cornbread dressing and cranberry mean Thanksiving. Incense means holiday time at church. Sweet marsh grass and plough mud mean the Lowcountry. 

Tastes are another. Who among us does not have instant memories,wonderful memories, when homemade strawberry ice cream, creamsicles, boiled peanuts, coffee, fresh milk, or a grilled hamburger cross our taste buds.

Sounds are a big one for me as well. I can listen to a particular piece of classical music and be transported. Rock music, drum and bugle corps, snare drums and pianos all have places in my brain, and my heart. Cicadas at night, croaking frogs by the scores on a warm summer midnight, and the rush of the wind as I drive down the interstate with the music loud and the window open. 

The seasons are triggers for me as well. I have so many memories that are linked to the beginning of summer, the transition to fall, the coming of winter and the holiday season and the rebirth of all things beautiful in the spring time. 

All of these things trigger memories, some wonderful, some painful, some hurtful, but all fresh and new and alive and begging to be front and center again.

What are your triggers?

Happy stickers courtesy of Leonard Porkchop Zimmerman, Augusta, Georgia, USA.