It seems that something like 95% of our lives is filled with shit that doesn’t really matter. We fret and stew about things that seem overwhelming at the time, but we later realize aren’t really important at all. They are the bubble wrap that the really important gems of our life come wrapped in. We sometimes get so distracted by popping the bubbles that we forget what they are wrapped around.
In that final glimmering moment of life, when your synapses fire for the last time and all your life’s memories flash before your eyes like a videotape, you will never remember the late payments or overdrawn bank accounts. You won’t think about your last performance evaluation at work or the jerk who cut you off on the freeway. You won’t think about the size of your house or the make of your car or the balance of your savings account or the petty grudge you clung to. What you will remember, and what will no doubt give you comfort and joy as you slip into the great beyond, are the daily gems that punctuate our lives. The 5% of our day that actually does matter.
You will smell the aroma of your mother’s home cooking. You will hear the voice of your father reading you bedtime stories. The first words of your child. The hearty laughter of the person you love. There are so many daily moments of bliss in our lives that go completely unnoticed at the time because we are too busy worrying about the other unimportant crap. When you focus on the 95% you become myopic to the really important things; but they are still there, and even if you don’t notice them at the time, they still make an impression. And some time later, when your mind is at rest, perhaps just before you doze off after an exhausting day, these daily gems will come back to you, lighting a candle in your heart, putting a sticky sentimental lump in your throat, welling hot tears in your eyes as you reflect on the things that really matter.
Moments like sitting on the porch with your best friend sipping a beer and watching a July thunderstorm build on the horizon, talking about cars and girls and music. Or playing fetch with an energetic puppy whose biggest thrill in life comes from a pat on the head and a “good girl” when, tail wagging furiously, she drops the ball at your feet. It is walking with bare feet on a freshly mown carpet of grass wet with morning dew but warmed by the sun, soft as silk. It is the smell of freshly cut hay or sweet corn ripening in a field. The sharp whistle of a bobwhite quail in a hedgerow on a steamy July morning. The familiar whinny of a tired old equine companion asking for a bite of corn or an apple.
It is the feeling that comes from the gentle squeeze of the warm hand of someone you love more than anything else on earth. From remembering the smell of her skin or the furrow of her brow in concentration. That one completely ordinary but entirely unique thing that she does that makes you recognize her instantly and brings tears of love to your eyes.
It is the memory of falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing into the beach at high tide, the room illuminated by brief flashes of far-away lightning over distant hills. It is finishing a good book with a combination of tears and smiles, hugging it close to your chest and thanking its author for making you feel so powerfully.
How often have you found yourself saying “I have had the ABSOLUTE WORST day today!”? I have been guilty of it. It happens when you fixate on the 95% that is utter shit and forget about the 5%. Every day of life is the most perfect day you will ever have. No day is an entirely horrible day. Every day has its gems. Sometimes the balance is shifted, and the shitty part is more like 99%. Other days it shifts in the other direction and a day is positively bejeweled with gems. But no day is either entirely shitty or entirely perfect. It’s always a balance, but every day has at least one gem if you look for it.
There’s a famous misperception of Crazy Horse, which states that he was unafraid of death because he reportedly said “it is a good day to die” before riding into battle. What he actually meant was that when you have love in your heart and are at peace with the world, every day is both a good day to live and a good day to die. That’s much more Zen-like than the stereotype of the fearless Lakota warrior would have us believe. But I believe that it is much closer to the true spirit of Crazy Horse. He was not expressing blind bravado, laughing in the face of death. He was saying that he was at peace with his life, and that today was as good a day to die as tomorrow.
I don’t generally make a habit of quoting the Bible, but there is one verse that has stuck with me over time. It comes from my namesake Matthew, 6:34, and says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” It is advice that I try to remember every time I find myself fixating on the 95%. Tomorrow will probably have its own 95%, but it will also have its gems, and I can’t wait to see what those are.