Take a Deep Breath, Decide to Enjoy Life, and Feed the Birds
Brian Dickinson

Time to take a deep breath a deep breath, then pause. There.  Feel better already, don't you?  Close your eyes. Tight.  Count to 10.  Slowly.  Afterwards eyes still closed, mind you think of a particularly upbeat something that you did this year.  Call up an image of this episode.  Why is it memorable?  How long will you remember?

You say this hear hasn't been an especially upbeat year for you?  That happens.  No problem.  Go back two, three years more if you need to until you come upon an image that makes you smile.  The important thing is to stay in the game.

When in doubt, feed the birds.

Write a letter.  The exercise will benefit your immortal soul and absolutely floor the recipient, who probably hasn't received a letter from anyone since Earl Butz was secretary of agriculture.  Teach yourself to tie a few good knots. While you're at it, knit up the raveled sleeve of care.  Allow ten minutes extra for everything.  When worried, just remember the words of Bernard de Clairvaux:  "Hey, babe, chill. Things could be worse."

Feed the birds.

Listen as the tea kettle whistles.  Watch it steam up the kitchen windows.

Write down Grandmother's recipe for potato pancakes Parmesan, before you lose it again.  Avoid throngs.  Laugh out loud when you feel like it.  For one day, leave your wristwatch at home.  Learn to whittle; throw shavings into the fireplace, where they will do some good.

Break the mold.

Drive a different route to work.  Say "good morning" to those glowering faces in the elevator (don't worry:  Most people don't bite).  Be aware of the fact that that rock salt on sidewalks can kill grass.  Watch dawn arrive; see how many colors the sky turns.

Take a deep breath.

Count your blessings.

Harboring a grudge against someone?  Has it helped?  (Didn't think so.)  Sing, if only in the shower.  Get older family members to tape their reminiscences.  Wiggle your toes.  Next time you make chili, add extra spice.  Whistle while you work.  Go for a good long walk; stretch those legs, including those important Achilles tendons, so easily forgotten in the hectic pace of today's living.

Take the dog.

Remember what my father used to say.  When I was a boy, and about to head off somewhere or other, my father always used to say, "Don't do anything dumb!"

Remember to feed the birds.

Take a chance now and then.  Look for a new friend. 

Telephone an old friend.  Seize the moment.  Believe in yourself.  If you keep kicking yourself, you're going to fall down.  Davey Crockett, he of the long rifle and wild frontier, said:  "Make sure you're right, then go ahead," which put it nicely.  A carpenter says:  "Measure twice, cut once."

Take your choice.

Breathe deeply.  Let your memory slip back to that summer when you were quite small, at the beach with your family, and your father hoisted you onto his shoulders and waded into the lake until his knees were covered.  You had never seen so much water.  You trusted your father totally.

Close your eyes.  Squint hard, relax.  How long ago was that first date with the person you later married 25 years? 30 years?  More?  Certainly a long, long time.  Just as certainly, a very short time.  How can it be both?

I've no idea.  But it is.

Smile.  Give a loved one a good, strong hug, just on general principles; because we never can tell, can we?

Don't forget to feed the birds.

Think about this for a moment.  Humans are said to be the only creatures with a time sense, including an ability to contemplate such a thing as the future.  Does it follow that humankind is the only species able to deal with the concept of hope?  I suspect that we are. I do believe that the capacity for hope can help us meet stiff challenges.

Open the bedroom window a crack at night; sleep in fresh air.

Take a time-out now and then as a way of reducing stress.  It works for sports teams, long-distance truckers and troublesome toddlers; so why shouldn't it work for you?

Seize the moment.  Make it your own.  One never has quite enough moments, although we don't know this when we are young.  Then, if we look ahead, we see an endless stream full of moments, so many that we could never count them, and all of them ours for the taking.  Before we know it, though, the stream has shrunk dramatically and the available moments are growing scarce; and we wish that we had gone after them more assiduously when the stream was full.

So, we say again:  Seize the moment while you can.

As long as you are seizing moments, use the opportunity to divest yourself of all that residual guilt you're carrying around.  Guilt gives us warts and yellow teeth, among other things, and never did anyone any good.  Gather up your guilt, wrap with care and send it Federal Express to my cousin Pearl in Bayonne, who can never get enough of the stuff.

Forgive.  Smile.  Walk.  (Oh, do walk when you can.)  Share.  Reach.  Laugh.  Teach.  Learn.  Run.  Believe.  Lift.  Climb.  Understand.  Explore.  Give.  Appreciate.  And, since you can never do it all, savor the small moments that, aggregated, become great.  Stay in the game oh, and do remember to look after the birds.
* * * *

Brian Dickinson was a Providence Journal editorial writer who stirred thousands of readers with his masterful, elegant columns long after Lou Gehrig's disease left him with the control only of his eyes.  He died at the age of 64.  For nearly a decade, helped by a series of remarkable computer devices, an array of medical machines and the constant attention of his family, Mr. Dickinson worked at his writing daily, even though he could neither speak nor move his arms, hands or fingers.  To read a feature on Dickinson written during his last days, click here.

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