Giving life back with interest

“For me, my life is like a loan given from God, and I will give this life back, but with interest.”  – Andy Wimmer, from the documentary Happy

In the documentary Happy, Andy Wimmer reflects on his work volunteering at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Sick and Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India.  For going on two decades, he has helped people who were literally too weak or too sick to handle their most basic needs.  He’s shown them love and eased their burdens.  Simply giving a dying boy food to eat, he says, was a “small enlightenment,” and his perspective on his life’s duty was changed forever.   

Upon hearing his reflection, I had to write it down.  To me, this was itself a “small enlightenment.” In that moment, it made me think…

How can I give my life back with interest?  

Andy made an enormous change leaving his corporate job and instead volunteering, but such a change isn’t required to accomplish the same goals that he is.  His work, boiled down, is the work of kindness, of showing up.  He found his happiness in showing up for a community who needed him.  And now, he is part of that community, and he continues to show up.

Now that’s something we all can do, and indeed I’m grateful to be surrounded by a community who does.

Oftentimes conversations about military families circle the “don’t haves.”  You don’t have your family.  You don’t have your hometown.  You don’t have the friends you grew up with.  You don’t have stability.  Sometimes it seems like what people mean is you don’t have anything… just because you decided to grow your branches instead of your roots.  How unfortunate.

But no – how fortunate.  How happy.  Indeed we have so much.

When I think of my community of military spouses, I realize that they, like Andy, are in the business of showing up for each other.

Military spouses are the people who show up with food and goodies when a service member is deployed, a baby has been born, or someone in the family has had surgery.   They show up to listen to you divulge personal struggles within minutes of meeting for the first time.  Neither one of you thinks it’s weird,  and you might tell them you hadn’t even told your closest friend from home.

Military spouses are the people who love “old school” sentiment.  They show up at your house because they saw you outside and wanted to come for a chat.  They show up with comfort food and a bottle of wine when you need to come to grips with a struggle.  They are the ones who say, “I’ll show up in five minutes,” when you tell them you need some company. Military spouses don’t ask to come; they just show up.

Military spouses are the ones who show up to celebrate your successes – even if they’ve known you for a hot minute, they’re ready to throw a party for you, because you’re happy, and happiness is best felt shared.

Military spouses are the ones who show up to take care of your most basic human need: a community who loves you.

As a brand new military spouse, I was excited for my new adventure, but even I thought in terms of the “don’t haves” at first.  I don’t have the job I really want, I don’t have my closest friends, I don’t have my white picket fence surrounding the house I’ll grow old in.

But soon, my perspective changed.

This isn’t temporary, some sort of “blip” in my life’s plan, I thought.  This is my life.

Soon I realized, through the example set by so many extraordinarily selfless, warm, happy military spouses, that I must show up for my own life if I want to be happy.  And in showing up for my own life, I’d better make sure I show up for my community.

The director of Happy, Roko Belic, said that lead researchers in the field of happiness (yes, it’s an actual field called “positive psychology”) admit that happiness looks different from person to person, but a common factor is personal relationships.  In fact, Belic interviewed people who lived amidst horrible poverty, but who said they felt like the happiest, richest people in the world.  Why?  Because of the families and friends who are happy to see them.  The community who makes them feel loved.

My life looks a lot different than how I predicted it would look.  And to some, it might seem that I don’t have a great life, given how often I have to move, deployments, and more. And indeed, there are undesirable challenges that require a lot of grit and determination.  But you know what?  I feel happy.  I feel genuinely happy, knowing who surrounds me.

From my husband and my kids to my military spouse community, both near and far.  I am so happy to be a part of it all.

I feel happy because I know they will show up for me, and I will show up for them.  And every time I see this in action, I feel a surge of adrenaline.  Some sort of euphoric rush overcomes me when I see human goodness transcend the bonds of blood and create such a beautiful example of genuine compassion and fellowship.

The military spouse community has its finger on the pulse of what it means to add the “interest” onto your life, so that one day you can give it back richer, deeper, and more beautiful than the day you received it.  They live everyday in the spirit of what Belic said was his greatest lesson in creating Happy:

“My pursuit of happiness is not about me. It’s about our relationships and how we help each other. It’s about us.”

Yes, the interest is about us.

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