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Sharon Cramer: Every day is special, so don’t postpone joy

When growing up, I was taught that there were many things to save for special times – in our family, this was shortened to “save for good.” This category included items such as treasured clothing, dress shoes and dishes that had belonged to a deceased relative. Whenever my sister and I were given permission to wear or use one of these things, we thrilled at the opportunities: our posture changed, and we became very, very careful. Even though few of these treasures were breakable, we handled each gingerly – we prevented damage the best we could.

After my mother’s death, when we were cleaning out her dresser drawers, we found many items wrapped in tissue paper. Some even had the tags still on, meaning that she had gone so far in saving things “for good” that she died before she got to enjoy them. At the time, nearly 35 years ago, I was somewhat startled to discover her habit of delay. Only now, five years older than she ever was, can I penetrate the error of her ways.

My new motto, “Don’t postpone joy,” encourages me to take things out of the drawers and use them gleefully. So many of the objects (clothes, jewelry, books) whisper their stories – of the person who gave them to me, of a place or time in my life that had slipped into shadow, or of a moment of celebration around which many pleasurable feelings were clustered. While this philosophy has not given me license to replace fruit with cupcakes, I purposefully connect with things that make me smile.

Seeking and experiencing joy is not limited to using things. Just as I had to educate myself in how to cook (still remembering the mistake I made by whipping cream so long it turned into butter), I had to make some mistakes in learning how to relax in the bubble bath of joy. Slowly, I learned to allow into my routine the doing of things that might seem to be “too special” for everyday.

Whether it be peppering my solitude with photo opportunities, volunteering with a new organization, going to a midday movie or spending uninterrupted days reading a new book, I’ve found many new ways to live in the now. Instead of waiting for a momentous occasion to get together with friends, I follow my motto, going out of my way to stretch my predictable daily circle out of shape to include them.

I become even more confirmed in my new motto when I think of a story told to me by my friend Judy, born in 1940, summing up pain we experience when we shortchange ourselves. When young, she had polio. As a rare treat for the children confined to the polio wards, each patient was given a bottle of Coca-Cola. So precious was it that she didn’t give herself approval to drink it. Instead, she imagined getting well, picturing herself slowly drinking from that bottle in the sunshine, outside the hospital. However, due to the contagious nature of her disease, when she got well, the bottle could not leave the hospital with her. Her sorrow at abandoning it reverberated years later, in the telling of this loss. Regrets like hers have multiple lives in the telling, with “if only” lingering for years.

How much better for us all if we stopped “saving for good.” Instead, let’s give ourselves green lights to do what will make us glad. Try a month of “no regrets,” and you are guaranteed a surfeit of smiles.