Every so often my father used to tell me: ‘these days are the best days of your life.’ It would confuse me. ‘You told me that last year,’ I’d remind him. He wasn’t forgetful. He knew full well he’d told me the same thing a year ago. He tried to explain: those were the best days, just as these days – around you right now – are also the best days. I didn’t understand. I thought it was some sort of riddle that I couldn’t get my inexperienced head around. There didn’t seem to be anything ‘best’ about them: pedestrian, mundane, each day clumsily tripping into the next. I was waiting for something momentous: a big break, adventure, seismic changes, an eventful life to begin. Yet he knew. And, at last, I am beginning to understand. Now is the best time. There are many days I might think that I’m not all that happy, but actually, I am. When I settle myself, remember that today is the best today I’m going to have, and not go hankering after someone or something to fix ‘this’ feeling (whatever it is), then the elastic band loosens. Once I get over the initial anticlimactic thought of, ‘really, is this it?’ – there descends a feeling of relief. Yes, this is it, it’s simple and doesn’t require anything of me other than just letting things be and enjoying them.
If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that Irish novelist, John McGahern, has become my go-to wisdom-guru. On the subject of each day being the best day, he writes: “The days were quiet. They did not feel particularly quiet or happy but through them ran the sense, like an underground river, that there would come a time when these days would be looked back on as happiness, all that life could give of contentment and peace.” My dad knew this instinctively. He had the ability to recognise days of contentment when he was in them – and we are always in them, if you dive deep enough into that river. These days of wall-to-wall sunshine help; but the best of days can also be found when the grey sky is falling in, when the car breaks down in the rain, when you are struggling through an airport as it heaves with summer travellers.
Some people understand the peace of ‘these days’ without anyone telling them. Others (like me) need occasional reminding. Without knowing it, M. reminded me of my father’s words in a recent email he sent me. He talked of what I think is a universal feeling: his struggle, over the years, to reach a place of peace and appreciation that these are the best of days, and the sense of gratitude for those moments when you ‘get it’. He spoke of an anxiety, or dread or stress that can drain one’s energy, leaving one feeling overwhelmed. ‘Nothing bleeds us dry like worry’: It’s a line I came across recently, I don’t know from where, but I know it’s true. Worries – big and small – block us from knowing the joy of these days.
I am a huge Jackson Browne fan, I think it’s because I relate (far too much) to his lyrics – all questioning and inner contemplation. He sings to me when I’m cooking in the kitchen. ‘Fountains of Sorrow’ is for chopping the onions to, when I need a companion to my sadness. ‘Doctor My Eyes’ is for when I’m feeling more upbeat, when I do my on the spot, bum-wiggle dancing whilst peeling potatoes. And my favourite of all JB’s songs? I think it is probably ‘These Days’. But, from now on, my promise to myself is that each time I listen to it I will remember that, no matter what’s going on, these days are the best of days.
‘These Days’, Jackson Browne
‘Well I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days,
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
And all the times I had the chance to.’