Yesterday I was stuck in the service department at my local Chevy dealership, waiting for them to fix my truck’s headlight. A home improvement show blared on the flat-screen TV, but everybody around me seemed hypnotized by their smartphones.
As I became absorbed in what I was reading, the shrieks of a little girl broke my concentration. Looking up, I saw a frazzled woman leading her energetic daughter to the available chairs across from me.
The woman looked tired. She was on her phone speaking to someone about a rent problem, daycare issues, and her work. She collapsed into the chair and let her daughter distract herself at an adjacent table of magazines.
The woman finished her phone conversation, leaned back, and sighed. I lowered my book and saw the little girl grinning at me.
Every cliche about kids is true
I glanced at the mother, who then looked my way. I smiled and said, “Mine’s 22-years-old now. He’s bigger and taller than me. I don’t know what happened. I guess it’s because we kept feeding him.”
The woman giggled and said, “Well, this one can put away the mac ‘n’ cheese, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, they love any kind of food that’s orange in color,” I said.
The woman looked at her daughter and said, “Sweetie, don’t chew on that magazine, you don’t know where it’s been.” Then she looked back at me, shaking her head.
“I feel for you,” I said. “I remember trying to juggle everything with my son. Appointments. Park visits. The birthday parties and parent/teacher conferences.”
“It’s exhausting,” she said.
“Yeah, it is. But someone once told me something about raising kids that I never forgot,” I said with a smile.
She leaned over a little. “What’s that?”
“The days are long but the years are short.”
She sat there a few seconds, processing what I said. Then she smiled and said, “Yeah, I like that, ‘cause it’s true, right?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “There were times I barely got through the day. Occasionally I was impatient. Or exhausted. I remember falling asleep at home with my son when we were watching Toy Story. But looking back now, the years flew by. And now I miss it.”
“When your son was little?” she asked.
“Yeah, when he was a little devil, dragging me to the park. Picking up his spilled cheerios. Burying his dead hamster. You miss the toys, the laughter, the discoveries. There’s a lot of magic in childhood.”
Every cliche about kids is true; they grow up so quickly, you blink and they’re gone, and you have to spend the time with them now. But that’s a joy. — Liam Neeson
We both sat there a few moments watching her daughter. Then I softly said it again. “The days are long but the years are short.”
Nobility of character
It wasn’t long after our chat that the service manager approached the woman to tell her that her vehicle was ready.
The woman seemed a little less frazzled now. Maybe my piece of wisdom was helpful. She picked up her daughter, purse, and paperwork.
“Tonight you, me, and Daddy will have some of that ice cream we got,” she said to her daughter. The little girl squealed with delight.
To be a good father and mother requires that the parents defer many of their own needs and desires in favor of the needs of their children. As a consequence of this sacrifice, conscientious parents develop a nobility of character and learn to put into practice the selfless truths taught by the Savior Himself.— James E. Faust
The woman turned back to me, before walking away. She smiled and said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I said with a wave. The truth is, I think our little interaction helped me more than her. Because it took me back to those early days with my son.
Back to all the joys and hopes and stations of life. From potty training and braces to martial arts classes and high school graduation.
There’s a poignant song and video by singer Trace Adkins titled “Then They Do.” It reflects on how raising kids can wear us out. We think about how nice it will be when they grow up. And then they do.
If you want to be a good parent, then the days will be long. Because you sacrifice for your kids. You put yourself second. You place virtue above your own wants and needs.
Being a good parent is certainly a worthy goal. Good parents usually raise good children, which benefits society.
But what if you want to be more than a good parent? What if you want to be a good person, too?
To find peace with ourselves
Society is fixated on happiness. A great deal of self-help and personal development content focuses on finding happiness. The things that supposedly bring us happiness are good looks, wealth, and fame. But do they?
Why is it that so many Hollywood stars self-destruct with divorces, drugs, and alcohol? The following quote by the actor Jim Carrey has probably become stale from overuse, but it’s still worth considering:
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.
Why is it that, for many people, once they achieve their dream or career pinnacle, they find they’re not happy? TEDx speaker and marketing expert Leonard Kim, in a blog post responding to the above Jim Carrey quote, wrote:
What I found to be a healthy alternative to the answer of all our dreams is to become happy with who we are. To live in the moment. To stop worrying about the future or living in the past. To shed ourselves of our expectations, both of ourselves and others. To forgive the ones who wronged us, most importantly ourselves. To find peace with ourselves. Then, most importantly, to think of all the things we are grateful for and blessed to have in our lives, even as simple as the roofs over our heads, or even the ability to breathe in fresh air.
Author David Brooks, in his book “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life,”explores how the struggle for personal advancement only brings temporary happiness.
People reach the top of their first mountain (ie: professional career), look around, and find they’re unsatisfied. They ask themselves, “Is this all there is?”
And so they climb down the mountain and begin searching for their second mountain. As the Amazon.com intro to Brooks’ book explains:
And so they embark on a new journey. On the second mountain, life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment.
The second mountain is about finding deeper meaning in your life. Becoming “other-centered” instead of “self-centered.” One way to do this is by pursuing virtue in your life.
In other words, learning to become a good person.
We’ve damaged our souls
If we live our lives with virtue, then we strive to do the right thing, like sacrificing for our kids. We don’t hurt others to get ahead. We live by the Golden Rule.
We understand that success and happiness wrought from unvirtuous behavior is a kind of Pyrrhic victory. We think we’ve won when really we’ve damaged our souls.
There is but one rule of conduct for a man: to do the right thing. The cost may be dear in money, in friends, in influence, in labor, in a prolonged and painful sacrifice; but the cost not to do right is far more dear: you pay in the integrity of your manhood, in honor, in truth, in character. You forfeit your soul’s content and for a timely gain, you barter the infinities. ― Lucius H. Bugbee
In today’s society, happiness has become our god at the expense of virtue. We see it everywhere. The university admissions scandal. The recent West Point cheating scandal, and the Dartmouth cheating scandal.
In the end, the cheaters are only cheating themselves. If we fail to put in the hard work, we deny ourselves the knowledge and experience that comes with it.
When we do the right thing, it may take longer to reach certain goals. But we protect our character. We reach our second mountain faster.
My conversation with the woman in the Chevy dealership was all about raising kids. How the days are long but the years are short. But it was also about love and sacrifice. About doing the right thing. Living with virtue.
Don’t be afraid to love and sacrifice in your life. Accept that sometimes the days will be long, and the years will be short. Don’t put happiness above virtue. Keep an eye on your second mountain. Do these things, and you will be at peace with yourself, and inspire others.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I write about life lessons, culture, and the creative arts. Check out my free Saturday Newsletter here.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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