I was listening today to No One Knows by the Nigerian-French singer Asa. It’s a song about a weatherman who is reluctant to make predictions, insisting that, “no one knows tomorrow.” It must be a hard time for weather people—not because of the pandemic or the racial injustice—but because most everyone can get all the weather information they need by checking their phones. Of course, Asa’s song is not really about the weather or the folks who report it. It’s about making the most of today instead of looking ahead to tomorrow.
In this pandemic period, there are plenty of reasons to think that tomorrow will somehow be better than today, but I would be mindful about putting your happiness on hold for too long. Unhappiness can be habit forming. Making excuses can be habit forming, too. I caught myself making an excuse the other day, thinking that the reason I felt stressed was because we weren’t going to be able to go on our annual summer vacation. The truth is that vacation travel isn’t essential to happiness. There are plenty of people all over the world who don’t get to go somewhere warmer or more exotic. They find ways to sneak in moments of happiness wherever they are.
Sometimes sneaking in a moment of happiness can feel like taking back something that was stolen from you; other times it can feel like finding something that was lost. Part of my job as a psychologist is to help people reclaim lost and stolen things. If the pandemic stole some of your happiness, today could be a great day to take it back. The same is true if racism stole something from you. My friend used to tell me that what racism steals is the basic dignity of being treated like a human being. It’s hard for me to understand what it’s like to experience that theft, even though it’s imbedded somewhere within my DNA. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I was raised to expect unfairness. My mom used to tell me, “You don’t get to choose how life treats you—only how you’re going to respond to it.”
Today I intend to respond bravely to any challenge that comes my way. I intend to embrace today like a dear friend that I will never get to see again. I have a number of dear friends who I no longer get to see. A few days before my writing mentor’s death, he asked me to take him to his favorite restaurant for his “last supper.” As were walking out together, he turned and said, “Ann Arbor seems perfect today, doesn’t it?” I can honestly say that Ann Arbor and the rest of the world don’t seem perfect to me now, but that won’t stop me from trying to experience at least one perfect moment each day. One perfect moment feels well within my reach. I have talked with veterans who have experienced a perfect moment during times of war. My mom experienced a perfect moment in an orphanage during a talent show. A talent show in an orphanage while World War II was raging? That definitely was living for the day. That was pure existential chutzpah. It takes a lot of nerve to appreciate life when things aren’t going your way. Everyone can be their best when they’re winning. But can you be your best when you’re feeling behind? Can you think beyond winning and losing and try to bring out the best in others? The field of play has always been more important than the scoreboard. I think we appreciate that now more than ever.