Paperwork: Some thoughts on what to expect – and need – from life

“So what do you want to get out of life?”

“What makes you happy?”

Questions like that come along now and then. They feel like big questions that beg a big answer.

I find myself repeating the same reply. I can’t remember when I first heard the clever quip, but I kept it.

It’s my big answer, put into a simple sentence.

“Just a few kind words,” I say, with a bit of a drawl. (Picture a whiskered old man sharing a bit of life philosophy.)

“Just a few kind words.”

Sounds like I am kidding around when I say it. But I’m not. Well, I might play too much with that drawl. But the words have real meaning to me.

We digest a lot of worry about what others say and think about us. That anxiety comes from a real need – in our marrow – to be appreciated and understood.

I’m thinking now about my 1962-63 yearbook. Ninth grade. I was 14 bumping 15.

The yearbook closed with “Reflections And Comments.” Many were written by classmates and others were penned for them.

I had not submitted anything, but next to my name was written a Shakespeare quote: “Little body with a mighty heart.”

You must understand I never felt connected or recognized in my school years. I was a skinny kid who blushed easily and stayed off the radar – and the honor roll.

But when I read those words something blossomed inside me.

I don’t know who put that quote by my name, but suddenly I felt connected. Appreciated. A feeling that never went away.

Kind words have a pulse. They embed where they are needed most. Somewhere inside us they attach where we easily can find them.

Those few kind words, dating back half a century, stay with me. Never forgotten. They help overshadow the unkind words that burrow and hide within.

We all need to do that more. Share kind words. Simply tell others you appreciate them for who they are. And mean it.

Now I’m thinking about a line from one of my favorite movies, “A Thousand Clowns.”

Another quote about what you get – and don’t get – out of life:

“That’s the most you should expect from life, a really good apology for all the things you won’t get.”

Yeah. It’s easy to want more. To think we deserve better. To have regrets.

But life is not fair. How many times have we been told that? And accepted it as truth.

So let’s say it together, to each other.

“I’m sorry. Truly sorry we don’t live in a perfect world. Whatever that is. Sorry there has to be bad along with the good.”

A sincere apology from life about life. Kind of an ointment for the pain we all must live with and endure. And share.

That kind of shared acceptance can carry you a long way.

That and a few kind words.

Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.