After basic physical and emotional needs, there’s one need that drives people: the need for self-fulfillment, for meaningful achievement. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs refers to this as self-actualization.
I feel that, Mr. Maslow. I do. There’s so much I want in this life, so many goals I want to achieve. That same drive and ambition is reflected in people around me. We’re always pushing ahead, striving for an ideal situation. And we’ll be truly happy when we get there.
I see so many people saying they’ll be happy when. When they lose a few more pounds. When they make a bit more money. I find myself sliding into that thinking sometimes too. It’s a seductive mindset, the idea that one day we’ll reach a better state and find true contentment there. And we’re almost there, just one more step forward, one more achievement.
But if we’re not happy here, in the striving, will we really be happy there, in the when?
The truth is, the dynamic nature of life means we’ll always be pushing forward, always reaching. What if, every day, we’re just a day away from happy? We’ll arrive at the end of our lives still reaching for that ever-elusive happy.
Over the last few years of life curveballs and jarring redirections, I’ve come to embrace an illuminating truth: contentment isn’t a destination.
It happens here. In the “not quite where I want to be yet.” In the “I’m still working on things.”
Happiness isn’t waiting for me on the other side of an exciting achievement. It’s already here. And it’s here because I choose it. I choose to celebrate all that is good in my life. I choose contentment by shifting my focus away from the mountain of things I want to the mountain of things I have.
I’m not saying I’m going to sit back and accept my life as it is. Contentment does not require surrender. Ain’t no give-up happening here, let me assure you.
I’m still striving. But I choose to find contentment in the striving, joy in the incredible opportunity to chase after achievements.
There was a time when I was a day away from happy. (Yesterday. It was yesterday.) Today, happy is here because I choose it. I’m wrapping my arms around it and digging my nails right in because I’m not letting go, whatever happens. Happy is riding this life roller coaster right along with me.
Okay. I admit it. The first time I tried a short story prompt, it wasn’t as painful as I expected. (You can read that here.) And it’s probably healthy, exercising my short story skills. So I summoned my courage to try another one. Hello Storymatic, what’s on the menu today? Here’s what I drew:
So, this one required a bit of research. Mostly because I saw the term “gravedigger” and wondered what that means in today’s society. Obviously it’s not one guy with a shovel, right? Thus, I had to educate myself. And in my research, I found this fascinating article.
I won’t lie. You may see a gravedigger in one of my future books. Why haven’t I thought about this profession before? It’s actually quite fascinating. Anyway, on with the story. Here we go.
There’s a look people give when they find out what I do, all curious and concerned at the same time. The look is usually followed up with, “How do you do it, dealing with death all the time?”
“Well, dead people have never given me any trouble,” I joke. “It’s peaceful. Nothing I’d rather do.”
They laugh, accepting it as a joke. A gravedigger with a sense of humor. They probably see it as a natural side effect of the work.
It’s the same answer I give every time, a mix of truth and lies. It is actually a great job. For me, anyway. But it’s a lie that dead people have never given me any trouble. There’s one who’s given me plenty.
Grave digging isn’t what most people imagine it to be—an old man hunched over a shovel, carving out a final resting place for their relative. I’m no spring chicken, that much may be true. But modern technology makes it faster, simpler. No long hours of shoveling.
But no one wants to see it happen.
I guess you could say I’m a magician of sorts. I make a grave appear, ready to receive the dearly departed. And then when all the goodbyes are said, I make the casket disappear, the only lingering evidence a brand-new tombstone.
But no one ever wants to see the work happen. So I’ve gotten good at being invisible.
Turns out, I’m not the only one.
It was one of those damp April mornings, the ones that make you ache all the way through to your bones. Row 19, Plot 22 was about to receive its occupant later that morning. So I had to get it dug and sneak out of the way.
Once the last mourner had vanished, I returned with the backhoe. ‘Bout scared the life out of me when I saw her. I’d just finished filling in the new residence of the recently departed when she jumped down from her hiding spot in the tree. Her skin and dress were nearly the same color as the bark, even if I’d looked up, I probably woulda missed her.
She eyed me solemnly. Couldn’ta been more than ten.
“So he dead, huh.” Her gaze was fixed on the freshly covered plot.
I nodded. “Yeah. He’s dead.” Least I sure hoped so, since I’d just buried the man.
Glancing around, I looked for any adult who may be responsible for this child. The broad cemetery was empty ‘cept for us.
“You Zacharias Ramsey?”
“I am.” I couldn’t imagine why she’d know my name, but something about those dark brown eyes looked familiar. It hit me at the same time as her next words.
Lord have mercy. I’d been looking for her for two years. My daughter’s baby girl. Oh, that daughter of mine. She was nothing but trouble, but one thing she did right—she gave birth to a beautiful little girl. How I loved that little girl. But when my daughter died a couple years back, no one knew where Celina was. No one had seen her or her daddy for months. She simply vanished.
I loped over to her as fast as my old bones could carry me and fell to my knees, wrapping my arms around that little girl. Tears spilled right down my face. I didn’t care. If someone couldn’t cry in a cemetery, where could a person cry?
I didn’t know how she found me. Or where she’d been those two years. There would be time later for those questions.
In that moment, all I wanted was to hold my grandbaby, here in this place where I covered up the dead and their secrets. Here where life had found me.
So. What say you? Have you encountered a modern-day gravedigger in any books you’ve read? What kind of story would you write with that prompt?