Can you think of someone who effortlessly makes you smile as soon as you see them? A person who has that way of exuding such positive energy that you begin to feel joyful before a word is even uttered? Maybe that sweet sensation begins when you catch a glimpse of them and recognize their stance or the color of their hair—or better yet, you hear their familiar laugh. These bubbles of happiness in human form offer contagious hugs to the heart! And unbeknownst to us, some of those same people may be facing difficult times even as they spark your smile; they’ve just figured out how to embrace life to the fullest. Let me share a couple of bubbles of joy with you.
Recently, I had the pleasure of substitute teaching for a friend who was unable to teach her regular yoga class at a local senior center. My friend told me that I would be familiar with some of the cast of characters in this class from previous groups I had taught for her. I was happy to find out that one of the people she was referring to was an eighty-year-old gentleman named Frank. Frank reminds me of a skinny Santa Claus—lively, cheerful, and probably an avid lover of cookies and milk. He has white hair and a white beard but lacks the bowl full of jelly. He also has an earring in one ear, so he’s probably more in line with a Santa Claus from the other side of the tracks—a South Pole Santa Claus, if you will.
When I bumped in to Frank in the parking lot, he met me with a glimmer in his eye, a grin from ear to ear, and a quick suggestion for me to lead the entire class in one specific pose: shivasana. (For those of you new to yoga, this effortless pose involves lying flat on the Earth with your eyes closed. It’s referred to as the “corpse” pose, so imagine the relaxation.) After I shot down his idea with a few laughs, Frank shared with me that he had recently had over forty radiation treatments for cancer. I was astounded. His eyes didn’t show it. His smile and happy demeanor didn’t let on. His heart didn’t seem torn apart from any pain or anguish he faced. His life still exuded joy. He took the yoga class, and like the mayor of the South Pole, even welcomed a new participant who had come for the first time. I never saw him without a smile.
Frank has found a way to embrace each day, each moment. He’s a reminder to not allow life’s challenges to taint the moments we have left on this planet nor to let them drain the life out of us. I’m sure Frank has difficult moments as we all do, but his heart continues to shower those around him with love.
The reason I know Frank is thanks to my friend Elizabeth, the yoga teacher and another bubble of joy. Elizabeth is a seventy-ish-year-old woman who looks like a petite flower but who has the spirit of a strong lioness. A couple years ago, Elizabeth found out that her young granddaughter had never climbed a tree. Upon hearing this, Elizabeth strutted over to a nearby peach tree and climbed it. She encouraged her granddaughter to follow. For a few moments, deep within the peach tree, they shared time that usually only occurs between school-aged children. What happened next may put a small damper on the story for some, but it actually only lends a different light. After the climb, my determined friend accidentally fell out of the tree and broke her wrist. The moral here goes beyond the fall; it is linked to a space deep in Elizabeth’s heart. The lesson is that following your heart—no matter the outcome—makes your insides sing. Not everything works out as planned, but it shouldn’t stop us from taking risks and making the most out of every moment. Elizabeth’s granddaughter isn’t scared to climb trees thanks to her grandmother; her granddaughter still reminds people that it was her grandmother, and not her, who actually fell (and what a great story this little love has to share for the rest of her life). Life is worth living, and sometimes a little risk is worth the adventure.
Make the most out of each day or at least hang out with people who do and let their contagious hugs invigorate you—because you’re never too old to inspire and you never know who your own heart may hug next!