Gary Horton | Reflection: Living a Joyful and Full Life

Gary Horton

While elections, hurricanes, heatwaves and headlines of all sorts grab our attention, life, love, loss, and sadly, death, march on.  

I’ve come to believe that life is a series of bumps, challenges and tragedies, interspersed with short and long periods of joy and contentment. 

But those bumps, challenges and tragedies are always right outside life’s door, waiting for an open crack to sneak through. And while our best attempts at living healthy and thoughtfully may extend our time and space for joy, still that crack in the door may open at any time and the bad things inevitably creep inside. 

That’s life and there’s no avoiding it. 

Most have heard the phrase, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” That seems flippant, and a more thoughtful version of it appears in Ecclesiastes 8:15:

“So, I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” 

Faith or not, all of us face life’s same lot: We only have so many days under the sun. 

Recently, while visiting Canada, I had a dangerously acute medical emergency that landed me in a Canadian hospital for eight days, including intense intestinal surgery and a large surgical scar as a vacation souvenir. 

Not fun, and a too-close brush with the great unknown. Had I hesitated to call an ambulance further, instead of intense surgical misery, I might have used up all my days under the sun and Carrie, my wife, would be a widow and not a wife.  

Life can be that arbitrary. And sadly, often is. 

As for many others, Carrie and I have entered a year of sadness. 2022 will be remembered for very beloved friends we’ve lost. 

Our accomplished and motivational neighbor, Duncan Henderson. 

Dear Roger Van Hook, College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook’s gregarious, wonderful, personable, mentoring, endearing and enduring husband. 

Carrie’s father, suffering in deep dementia. A mother-in-law, in a similar situation. 

This list goes on.  

Nothing can mitigate the pain associated with these losses for us and especially for those closest. Indeed, there’s no words to express the shock and extent of sadness and emptiness. I can’t say more, because there aren’t human words sufficient for the emotional depth of the pain… 

I shared a room with three other men during my eight-day Canadian hospital stay. During my Canadian hospital “vacay” – I saw each of the adjacent three beds admitted and released at least three times. 

The worst case was an older man in dementia, also suffering from acute alcohol withdrawals with hallucinations. 

There were guys with permanent bags, never to be the same. 

A guy with intestinal cancer, hopefully contained. 

Another man who graciously became a friend and inspiration for my recovery, who was initially admitted for heat stroke, then heart failure, and then like me, hernia-induced intestinal blockage. 

Twenty-two days that man spent inside those walls…

All survived, but many will never return to “normal” lives. 

And then there were the dozens of really infirm old, old folks populating rooms down the hall. Retrospectively, I was a lucky one, even as I was wrongfully feeling sorry for myself. 

I sound like a downer, but my intent is opposite. 

My biggest hospital takeaway is to live our best lives of integrity, dedicated to improving ourselves and making real positive impact in the lives of those who we love, as well as those we don’t, or who we simply don’t know. 

No strings attached. Live fully. Live joyfully. Live with good intent for all. 

Be real and be true to yourself… 

Just like those folks mentioned above, Duncan, Roger, and special others have. All incredible motivators and mentors to Carrie and me. We’re so blessed to know and to have known them. They lived full lives, joyful in their work, impacting the world for good, fully true to themselves. 

“I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” 

I’m not much of a Bible thumper. However, here the Bible gets it just right: It’s great advice for us to be glad for the time we have with one another. 

And, to toil all our days with joy. And that’s what living a full life is. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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