Not long after high school I moved to Australia with a girlfriend and four other good friends. We started off being generously hosted by my fabulous aunt and uncle, and none of us worked for a few months. But even with all of that freedom we eventually felt a desire to be productive and we all elected to get jobs.
I was managing a high fashion men’s wear boutique where we sold $20 Indian cotton shirts for $400—in the 80’s. One day I got home early because I had been at some meetings that ended ahead of schedule. I decided to make my now-ex-wife dinner. As I was preparing it she came home. Below is a rough transcription of the conversation that followed.
“Hi Sweetheart! How was your day???”
“It was fantastic. REALLY fantastic. It seemed like everyone I talked to was in a great mood. Everyone was so incredibly nice.”
“Were they?” I said. “Were you at a busy place today?”
“Super. Hospital administration. Lots of staff, lots of the public coming through.”
“And everyone was in a good mood?”
“Literally everyone. I know it sounds dumb, but there really was a great vibe about today. I really mean it. Everyone was smiling. Huge smiles. From everyone. I think it was maybe the best day of my entire life!”
“Wow. That’s quite the testament. And did you leave work at lunch? Did you go to the beach to work on your tan?”
My now-ex-wife was a professional office administrator in Canada, so she did some specialized office work in Australia, but her beauty and enviable figure also got her work primarily as a swimsuit model. It’s a busy business in that part of the world, so she was always working on evening out her tan lines so she could look good in any kind of suit. So it wasn’t odd for her to duck down to the beach on lunch hours from an office, in order to grab some quick sun for a shoot the next day.
“No, it was too hot, so I went to their cafeteria and ate.”
“Wow. Was there a line-up?”
“Huge. But even there, everyone I talked to was super happy.”
“I’ve got a theory about that,” I told her.
“About why everyone was so happy today?”
“Yeah. Come on.” I lead her toward our bathroom. “I think I might have an idea….”
“What?” she asked with intense interest.
I pointed at the bathroom mirror. She looked at her reflection. It took a moment before she realized that her button-up collared shirt was on inside out and backwards!
“Oh my God! It must have been like that all day!!!” This isn’t great husband advice, but that’s where I exploded laughing. “Oh my God this is the worst day of my life!”
Now here’s one of those ideas that has never made any sense to me at all.
Maybe it’s because of my accident, or maybe it’s because of what sort of questions my accident caused me to ask, but I have never been confused about the fact that the present does not change the past. What has happened has happened. You only have the moment you’re in. All else is within our minds. So because my girlfriend finds out at 6pm that she rode the bus in a backwards, inside out shirt, that does not erase the wonderful day she had right up until she looked at that mirror. The experience of her life was a day filled with the happiest people she had ever encountered and that reality was the truth for her.
Experiences are experiences. Your life is a collection of them. It’s not a road to somewhere. It’s just a collection of pieces of lifetime. So remember that you, the world around you, and other people too, are all reflections of your own mind; your own thinking. So there really aren’t many jerks in the world. You just met some nice people while either they were temporarily grumpy, or you were.
My ex-wife did have a great day that day. What happened later is a separate event. Otherwise that would be like saying that just because we got divorced, that our marriage had no value. That’s absurd. We had fun. We travelled the world together. We laughed and danced and hung out with friends. There was a lot of good life in there. Us ending it doesn’t erase history.
Your life very simply is whatever you think it is. Stop mocking that idea as too simple, and try executing it instead. Because if you meditate on it, you will pretty easily come to the conclusion that I’m simply noting a fact. Our lives aren’t our lives. They are stories we tell ourselves. Tell yourself a good one, where you’re the hero. Or you could always just put your shirt on backwards….
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.