Those were the concluding words of Denis Raymond, our most recent guest in the Learning-to-Stick-With-It-Series at Carleton Memorial United.
A short bio – cancer survivor, spec-ed daycare educator, Masters of Education grad who has taught internationally and in the Northwest Territories, now a Master of Social Work student who has designs on working with cancer patients. Four years ago, Denis was given a year and four months to live. All this and he’s only Thirty.
Denis had just shared his faith journey with us.
“Faith,” he says “is really about just doing the right thing in front of you even if you are not sure what the result is going to be. When someone comes up to you and tells you that you are going to die, you get very focused,” he added with a straight face and a solid voice.
We could all be forgiven for thinking that it’s Denis’ strength in facing cancer head on that forged him into the man he is today. We could also be forgiven for thinking that what he has to say is motherhood and apple pie for the “rest of us”. But as people were saying afterwards, the cancer really isn’t the main part of the story.
He tells of carrying a voice that defined him – one that literally told him he had virtually no chance of ever being happy.
“I took one of those tests in high school that is supposed to tell you what kind of job is for you. The psychologist sits me down and tells me: ‘You’ll never be happy. You like too many things’. This is a psychologist telling me this.”
The education people in the congregation could barely contain themselves. “Just what you needed to hear,” someone shot out. Laughter all around.
It is true that, like oil bringing out the grain in wood, big events in our lives show us what we are made of. But the unseen, sometimes forgotten moments that “sand us down and refine us”, those moments are really what define us.
It was a crystallizing moment for him. After high school he set out to hitch-hike across Canada. And that journey, I think, taught him a lot about the nature of happiness.
“I discovered that when you are picked up as a hitch hiker, the person who picks you up realizes that they will never see you again. And then, they lay their story out. The story that they’ve never really told any one. I have had the privilege of meeting people at their most vulnerable.”
“And when you stepped out of the car, you took that story with you,” I said.
“Yeah. I did.”
I could go on, but I think you are getting the gist. When asked what he has learned most about himself through his entire journey leading up today, he pauses again. “Everybody has a story that deserves to be heard.”
Have you (that’s you the reader) ever considered that part of being happy is deciding to actually be yourself a vessel of happiness?
So could it be then, that tapping into happiness lies in knowing and being known? I think it is. Over coffee, we talked about how it takes both courage and humility to do this. And, how sometimes it takes more courage to be humble than anything else.
As Denis’ Forest-Gump-like odyssey shaped his outlook about what made him happy, his cancer put him in a place of vulnerability himself. That too, it would seem, shaped his sense of happiness.
“You’ve heard about the flight or flight mechanism? Well, for me, when they gave me the news, I went into shock. And then my attitude was “Okay. What are we going to do?” The thrust in this is that he didn’t want to be a passive bystander to his life, no matter how “bad” he was being told it was.
And then those words echo back to me: Allow yourself to be happy.
Happiness… is not something I search for. It is something that is in creation and creativity, there like water to quench my thirst. For certain there will by “dry moments” and maybe even moments of “drought”. But then, as I am known and know through the life I share and live with others, I can be happy. This sounds trite, until you hear it from someone who needed to know it to face life, to find something, anything, to not give up.
So could it also be then, that another part of happiness lies in the ability to be engaged in life rather than be disengaged from? I think so.
How are you engaging life? What might be your best hopes for your efforts? Whose voice are you listening to as you walk your path? The voice that gets in your way? Or the voice that tells you that no matter what the world tells you, your life matters? Where does your own faith lie in the midst of this?
In another conversation, Denis told me that since surviving cancer, he has never been more aware of living in the moment. He is quick to add that it has taken energy to overcome the strange desire of some people to project what “living in the moment” might look like.
“People expect you go skydiving… like every day!” He says with a laugh. “It’s not what makes me happy. Helping people makes me happy.”
Denis sang us “Alone” by Trampled By Turtles. He said that for a time, the song was on replay 24/7. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejf…) It talks about the darkness in parts of the human journey and where light can be found. If anybody thought that his journey in all its parts has been a walk in the park, they thought otherwise after hearing him sing.
And then, as the dust settled so to speak, in my own words, I heard in my heart the tremendous power of his story:
Allow yourself to be happy.
Do the next thing that is right in front you. Never mind about the voices who tell you to give up or that you are foolish and naive for believing “in that stuff”.
Faith is beautiful thing and a reason…a way, truth and life… a trans-formative state… to not only be happy… but to be a source of happiness.
To which I can only say… Thank you God. Amen.
Rev Eric Lukacs
Come into the world Alone
And you go out of the world Alone
But in between It’s you and me
The summer breezes blow
So tall And the winter nights are cold
And so long
And in between
The falling leaves
The days and nights are killing me
The light and dark are still in me
But there’s an anger on the beach
So let the wind blow hard
And wear the falling stars