READY: Summing up life in six words

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Several Sunday’s ago, I could have easily summed up my entire day — at least metaphorically speaking — in one short phrase: “Dressed up for church, toilet overflowed.” Or I could have said it more spiritually with “On way to church, Devil intervened.”

I was about to leave for worship, made a quick trip to the bathroom, flushed the toilet which overflowed the floor, and soaked the bedroom carpet. Then, for some mysterious reason, the bathtub filled up by itself, and the water wouldn’t drain. As a result, I missed church, something which would have been a far more pleasant alternative to the three hours I spent bailing water, “snaking” the plumbing, pouring nasty chemicals into the drains, mopping, disinfecting, shampooing and drying the carpet.  

Did you notice the two short summations of my Sunday saga took just six words each, but my detailed explanation required 82 words? It’s funny how a great deal of life’s drama can be succinctly stated.  

My obsessive little mind has recently been fixated on the six-word life summation, a fascination which came to me after reading Not Quite What I Was Planning, a book of six-word summaries by famous and not-so-famous people and with its title containing six words. One famous contributor, Dr. Drew Pinsky, said, “People can’t want what they want.” Novelist Joyce Carol Oates said, “Revenge is living well, without you” and Roy Blount said, “Maybe you had to be there.” Another interesting entry was, “Maybe I should have been there.” That last one could tell several different tales. So could this one: “My marital advice? Marry an orphan.”

Several submissions from the book struck me as particularly poignant and thought-provoking:  “Followed yellow brick road. Disappointment ensued.” And “Should have risked asking, he sighed.” Then there’s the cryptic “Dad was Santa. Downhill from there.” Wouldn’t you love to know the whole story on those? 

There’s a certain mathematical precision in getting down to the essence of who you really are and what kind of life you live and being able to do it in half a dozen words. The book’s editor, Larry Smith, opines (in six words) “It’s goofy, but it works somehow.”

The origin of the six-word summary dates back to the 1920’s, when Ernest Hemingway made a bet with some fellow writers that he could write a short story in just six words. The result, which he always referred to as his best work, was simply, “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.” We don’t need to know the back-story on that one. It’s all too apparent. Those few words speak volumes while at the same time, breaking your heart.

Considering the first four months of 2014, could you sum up your life according to how things have gone since it began? Without going into the gloomy details, I would have to say: “It’s been one calamity after another.” If you’ve had an uneventful 2014 thus far, think about last year. Some might say, “It was a year of surprises” or maybe, “a dizzying sleigh ride through hell.” If you can say, “The best year of my life,” be joyful in your blessings and give thanks at least six times a day.

At various rites of passage in our life journey, we naturally re-adjust, reflect, regret and remember. When I asked a preacher friend of mine to sum up his present life, he said, without hesitation, “I’m absolutely awed by God’s grace!”  

Oh, for such a steadfast faith! 

Some years ago, I read an obituary of a fellow I would’ve liked to have known. The final words in the death notice read simply: “I did the best I could.” I’m guessing those who knew him well would say that’s exactly what he did.

When my husband became so ill, I kept a constant vigil over him administering his medications, checking on him every few minutes, and sleeping on a couch beside his bed while still listening for any changes in his breathing or pain level, asking him repeatedly, “Are you O.K., honey?” I probably annoyed him with all that attention, but he never complained. As morbid as it sounds, I feared my six words might be “He died while I was sleeping.”

I will forever be thankful that wasn’t the case.

Instead, I can say, “He died while holding my hand.”  

When I remember the blessed assurance that was his, I can truly proclaim, “Hallelujah! This isn’t all there is.”

One life. Six words. What’s yours?

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.