It’s Your Choice


In many situations in life, Dear Reader, you have the choice to be happy, be unhappy, or be somewhere in-between. Whether it be shedding those few extra holiday pounds, tightening the budget to pay off all those presents, or letting go of things in our past that haunt us — the start of another new year is the perfect time to make some positive changes in our lives.

But that’s easier said than done — unless you have a guide to happiness, which, of course, I’m happy to supply.

If, for whatever reason, happiness eluded you last year, all hope is not lost. By the end of this column, you too can be well on your way down the road to having a truly happy new year — with a little help from those kids who lived a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

Bubba Hanks was by far the largest kid who ever lived on Flamingo, but he never thought his size was a problem. Instead, he used it to his advantage. On the football field, he became the fiercest tackler who attended Briarwood High, home of the Mighty Buccaneers, earned a four-year scholarship to college, and eventually spent time in the pros.

He also helped Yours Truly defend himself against the weekly attacks by Down the Street Bully Brad. Yes, his great size made Bubba different from anyone else, and because he was so different, he could’ve lived his life being bitter, but he believed it made him unique.

Bubba chose to be happy.

I spent five years attending Briarwood High School and, no, I didn’t get held back. Back then, high school was 8th through 12th grades. For my entire time at Briarwood, I only dated once. Not dating wasn’t my choice though.

At the very start of eighth grade, a horrible case of acne decided to visit my face and stay. After five years of being ridiculed about the way I looked, I promised never to comment on anyone’s looks again.

I realized some things you’re just born with through no fault of your own. There’s not much you can do to change them. The way you look, both good and not so good, is one of those things. That experience is a big reason why I try to be empathetic to what many people go through today.

During those years we attended Mt. Olive Elementary and Briarwood High School, home of the Mighty Buccaneers, Neighbor Thomas taught me an important lesson. Being told he taught someone anything would be a surprise to Thomas because he never did well in school.

Before we graduated from Briarwood, I asked Thomas if his parents were mad at him for never getting good grades. His answer I’ve never forgotten. “No. Not worried about what other people think. My parents see me trying the best that I can, and that’s good enough for them.”

If you’re doing the best that you can, that’s good enough. And what other people think is their problem, not yours.

I don’t write much about Cory, and for good reason. Yes, he lived on the other side of the vacant lot next to Neighbor Thomas and was in Old Ms. Crabtree’s third grade class with the rest of us kids from Flamingo. But he was also something else.

Cory was a malcontent.

Cory was always complaining about something. If his family just got back from a week’s beach vacation, he’d complain it wasn’t longer. If he got a B on a test in Old Ms. Crabtree’s class, he’d complain that it wasn’t an A. He even got two dollars each week for an allowance and still complained that it wasn’t five. The only person that got a five-dollar allowance was Preston Weston, III (a.k.a. Money Bags).

By age ten, Cory was the owner of a permanent scowl. He set a good example of what not to be. A negative person can pull the most positive and happiest person down with them so it’s best to just stay away from folks like him.

From a young age, Cory seemed to choose to be unhappy.

Soon after The Wife and I got married, I was complaining about a situation that happened at work. Don’t remember what the situation was now, but I’ve never forgotten what she said.

The advice she rendered was the exact same statement my parents said every time one of us kids complained when something bad happened to us. While we were growing up, our parents often said, “Bad stuff happens to everybody. You can’t control that. You can only control how you react to it.”

Still, reactions are a bit different from emotions. You can feel angry. That’s okay. But you can’t go out and punch someone. Punching someone isn’t okay. At least that’s what my parents told us boys anytime they caught us fighting each other.

The Wife didn’t grow up on Flamingo, but she too has chosen to be happy each day. She is the most positive person I’ve ever met.

Certainly, there are times in our lives when strong emotions come. It’s normal to be sad or angry or scared at those times. And it’s OK to acknowledge those feelings.

But in many situations, you can choose to be happy, unhappy, or to be somewhere in-between. I made my choice by following the examples from those kids with the funny nicknames who lived a long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

So, in this new year when I can, I’ll choose to be happy. I hope you do too.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]