A couple of years ago, just before New Year’s Day, a friend of mine from school posted an idea on Facebook. It showed an image of a mason jar, tied with a colorful ribbon. Inside of the jar were folded slips of paper.
The idea, she explained, was to make ourselves more mindful of the really happy moments in our lives. It was a way to focus on the positive and to remind ourselves that life, after all, is usually pretty damn sweet for most of us.
“Cool”, I thought at the time. “I’ll do it!” So from January 1st of 2014 to January 1st of 2015, I folded up those little papers and saved them in the jar on my kitchen windowsill. It was a useful exercise! I felt a certain benign pressure to fill my jar, so I was more attuned to those moments of happiness than I normally am. I noted them, appreciated them, documented them and saved them up for later.
And on January 1st of 2015, I started a new jar. And every time I had one of those “life sucks” days, I reached into the old jar to unfold one of my little treasures, reminding myself of just how lucky I am.
Today I decided to go through all of the little papers in that first jar. I pulled them all out, organized them into piles by topic and thought about what they could teach me.
Well, the first lesson was glaringly obvious: This is a pretty great life I’m leading here! The next time I whine or moan, anyone of you who knows me has my permission to smack my upside the head and hand me my jar. Seriously.
The next lessons were a little more subtle. For instance, I wasn’t at all surprised to see that fully 1/4 of my notes referenced my children.
Everything from the life-changing (“At Kate’s wedding: Matt mouthing the words “I love you” during the ceremony) to the mundane (“Sitting around watching sports with Tim”). There were notes about conversations with Kate, shared jokes with the three of them, visits at unexpected times. Notes about having one home for a few days after oral surgery (“Sorry that he’s in pain; happy that he’s here”) and notes about driving through a huge thunderstorm and coming out into a rainbow with another one. My kids are my greatest pride, my greatest pleasure, my deepest love. No surprise there! Kate got married in 2014, so there were lots of notes about that!
I was a little more surprised to see that another 1/4 of my happiest moments happened in my classroom.
There were so many more of those notes than I realized! I can only include a few here, because so many had the names of children on them, and teachers like me observe confidentiality. What struck me was that a lot of them came from interactions with former students, as well as the kids I was currently teaching. One boy had come back to visit and had given me a note that said, “Thanks for being a loving and hilarious teacher.” I was delighted beyond measure that those were the two adjectives he chose for me! What could be more important to an 11 year old boy than both love and hilarity? A lot of the notes referenced hugs, and several talked about laughter and jokes and mud filled field trips. None mentioned a test or a lesson or a score.
It isn’t surprising, I guess, that I found so much pleasure in the presence of my students. What I learned from reading the notes, though, is that I should not be surprised at the depth of my sadness at having retired suddenly last June. I was ready to give up the stress and the pressure and the conflict with administration. I most certainly wasn’t ready to give up the joy, the laughter, the hugs or the muddy adventures. I wasn’t ready to walk away from the kids; in 2014, they gave me as much happiness as my own children. In some ways, although perhaps it shouldn’t have, that fact surprised me.
So what kind of notes made up the remaining 50%? Well, I have to laugh! They were an almost even mix of my observations of nature, and random moments when I found myself alone at home with my hot tub, good food and good drinks!
For example, there was the very eloquent observation: “Gorgeous full moon and cotton clouds tonight!” There were moments when I noted the budding of the lilacs, the return of the humming birds and the heady smell of rosa rugosa.
But then there were the wonderfully gleeful notes like the one that said, “Home in a mini-ice storm- read, made soup, watched a marathon of ‘Ghost Hunters’, sweet!”
So what have a learned from my mason jar?
I have learned what I already knew in my bones. My life is wonderful. I am indescribably lucky, and grateful to be so. I love children. All of them, not only my own. I love what they give me. I love the fact that they seem to love me back. Above all else, I love to be with children.
But I have also learned a couple of things that I didn’t know. The natural world feeds my soul in a way that I didn’t really appreciate until now. Next year, I will be more careful to spend time out there in the woods and fields and beaches.
And in spite of my very social nature, sometimes all it takes to thrill me is a little time with just myself for company. Especially if that time comes with seafood, cold Prosecco and some cheesy TV.
Happy New Year to Everyone! I wish you many little notes in your mason jars of life!