Looking Forward

I used to know an old man named Bill, he was my neighbor. I think he was in his late 80s when I knew him, but I don’t remember now. He was soft spoken, he sort of reminded me of Jimmy Sterwart.

He loved caramel-flavored coffee from a gas station up the road. It came from a fancy machine and was sweet enough to rot your jaw. Sometimes we would drink this stuff together. The coffee was so sugary I could hardly choke it down.

I remember one day, he and I were sharing one such coffee in his kitchen while his grandchildren were playing Pictionary. Thus, between the words of our heartfelt conversation, kids were shouting: “A CAT!” “A DRAWBRIDGE!” “LEONARDO DICAPRIO!” “SHUT UP!”

During that conversation, Bill said to me something I will never forget. He said: “I think the key to being happy is having something to look forward to.”

Sometimes words hit me just right and make perfect sense. This was one of those instances.

Anyway, I have always been very interested in what elderly people believe the key to happiness is. I’m always asking old people questions about happiness because we young people sure as Shinola don’t know a thing about it.

Just yesterday I was walking through my neighborhood. I passed a youngish woman who was jogging while having an animated cell phone conversation. Here is a verbatim quote from the conversation:

“I’m sick of working for a cheap firm, I want my freaking BMW.”

That’s the problem with young persons. They think BMWs will make them happy. But when you ask an old person what makes them happy, they usually point to a photograph of their children, then ask you to refill their glass of Metamucil.

Bill said he was in his 60s when he discovered this trick of finding things to look forward to. His discovery came during a vacation to Hawaii.

He and his wife had spent a week on the beach, sipping giant comical drinks with names like the Lava Flow Martini, each drink garnished with four exotic fruits and a live parrot. And on his last night in Hawaii, he was starting to get depressed.

His trip was ending and he was realizing that he was about to go back home to a desk job, with a boss whose greatest life ambition was probably to drive a BMW 6 Series 635CSi. There was nothing exciting on the horizon now that Hawaii was over.

So Bill made an important life-changing decision, right then and there, to order another Lava Flow Martini. Then he made another important life decision and planned ANOTHER vacation, one that he could look forward to. It wasn’t anything fancy. A cheap camping trip in a state park, or a fishing trip on the river. He said his blues immediately disappeared.

“My wife and I just needed something new to look forward to,” he said.

And I have always remembered that.

I am especially remembering his advice today because right now I am going crazy with this quarantine. I have been at home for 60 days. The only fun things I have to look forward to are cellphone bills, and picking up things my dogs excrete in public places.

It’s a very weird world we’re living in right now. Yellowstone and Yosemite are closed. Major League Baseball might not play a season. I am still wearing the same pajama pants I was wearing back in March.

Even Hawaii is not serving many fruity drinks, but is making tourists quarantine for 14 days after stepping off a plane.

There isn’t much to look forward to. When I was a kid, I naturally found things to get excited about. Like picking strawberries, a mail-ordered toy from the Sears catalog, or a camping trip with the Little League team.

Our Little League team used to take lots of camping trips. Before bedtime, coaches would tell horrific ghost stories around the campfire while they sipped Miller High Life. These were stories about one-armed bandits hacking people to pieces with machetes.

One such night, I remember my buddy, Daniel, was too afraid to leave our tent to go pee in the woods. So he opened the tent flap and tried to aim outside. The tent flap interfered with his stream of consciousness.

I won’t go into detail about what happened next, except to say that lots of splattering took place, and every boy in that tent was seeking the death penalty.

So these were the kinds of things I looked forward to as a kid. Not the splattering, the camping. I looked forward to being “it” during a good game of tag. I looked forward to “Action Comics” and seeing what Clark Kent was up to. I looked forward to watching “Wheel of Fortune” with my mother. Little things. But many of those little things have disappeared for the moment.

Today, I had a phone conversation with an old friend who lost his father to cancer. He can’t even plan the funeral right now because nobody can come. It will be a four-person service and he’s heartbroken.

That’s what reminded me of old Bill. There were, for instance, about a million people at Bill’s funeral. I was there. When I looked into his casket, I tucked a note into his jacket pocket and promised him I would try to follow his advice. Lately, I’m not doing a very good job. But I’m trying.

Which is why I’m drinking this flavored coffee.

31 comments

  1. Toni - May 15, 2020 8:19 am

    Absolutely loved this post… taking just one small strand… this evening I was looking at some photos of my mother with her grandchildren; how she adored her grandchildren. And she also was very sure about having her metamucil.

    Another thread, my family’s dedication to camping trips when younger… mainly the cub leaders who were my mothers’ sisters. They were very energetic and excellent cub leaders. Their fiances had both been lost in WWII but they wanted to put their energy and know how to good use.

    Our family also always had something planned to look forward to, mostly holidays. This is a brilliant idea, and I am so glad that you wrote this blog for this single gem of a reminder, as well as for all the guffaws and chuckles.

    Reply
  2. Teresa M. White - May 15, 2020 9:52 am

    A good word for the down trodden and folks who just need to be reminded to be thankful in all things.
    Keep your chin up and that crappy old type writer humming. You’re a spiritual vitamin supplement to the masses.

    Teresa White
    Ludowici, Georgia

    Reply
  3. Charles - May 15, 2020 10:41 am

    I look forward to your column each morning. During this time of quarantine your stories of dogs, places and people you’ve met are really important to hear, reminding me of my relationships and memories. Thanks for encouraging others.

    Reply
  4. Beth Ann Chiles - May 15, 2020 10:52 am

    When I was younger and had braces on my teeth the way I would muscle through the pain and agony in the orthodontist chair was to think about the shopping trip I would be able to do after my appointment. Somehow to a teenage girl who loved new clothes it made it bearable. That hard earned babysitting money didn’t buy a lot but knowing thea ti had the chance to go shopping afterwards in the “big city” made a big difference. Having something to look forward to is something that everyone needs about now. With trips being canceled including my 60th birthday trip to Bermuda I am trying with all my might to focus on my next adventure whenever that will be. For now I have to find my adventures in my back yard and in books and reading great posts like yours. Thanks for this one and for the reminder from Bill to look ahead to the next adventure.

    Reply
  5. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 15, 2020 10:59 am

    Sean, I am looking forward to your next blog post.

    Reply
  6. Ann - May 15, 2020 11:29 am

    Great advice!!
    If you don’t look forward to “ something “ you look down or back and those are not good directions. Anything “ forward” is good…sunrise…coffee upon awakening…Sean’s column…a favorite TV show…seeing your children/grandchildren/ great grandchildren…walking with a friend….forwards are endless and the smallest can bring happiness!
    I hope we can all enjoy a “forwArd” kind of day…thank you Sean for simple reminders❤️

    Reply
  7. Cindy B. Stevens - May 15, 2020 11:48 am

    I pulled my husband in to listen to the portion about something to look forward to. That resonated. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Kim Havas - May 15, 2020 11:53 am

    Oh Sean! You hit the nail on the head with this one. Or rather Mr Bill did! Our hopes, dreams, & looking forward keep us going. May we all look forward to a better tomorrow!

    Reply
  9. Terri - May 15, 2020 11:55 am

    This is so true Sean. Love you much.

    Reply
  10. Jimmy Stewart (No Really, It is!!!) - May 15, 2020 11:57 am

    Seems I’ve been looking forward all my life. I realized it on a trip like Bill did. When the trip was over I panicked. When I got home, I realized looking forward gives me hope. It even brings pleasure and happiness when it is based on experience and/or anticipation.

    One of my life favorites has been to look forward to watching my kids play sports. While I “look forward” to grandkids, I enjoy watching others kids (of all ages) play sports. Any sport. Thank God NASCAR will be back and live this weekend!!!

    I think dog is man’s best friend because dogs only look forward. Ok, they do look back after they do their business but that is the only time!!! They especially look forward to our return home which makes me look forward to returning home. See what I did there??? Dogs equal happiness. The cycle of looking forward!!!

    For the past year, one of the main things I have looked forward to each and every day has been reading your blog/post/article/story/extravaganza. God bless you for honesty, transparency and consistency. Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Let it all out. Right now, your writing is the best thing going “forward”!!!

    Love you, “Brother” Sean.

    Reply
  11. Christine Washburn - May 15, 2020 12:01 pm

    Thank you for giving us something to look FORWARD to😍

    Reply
  12. Dianne - May 15, 2020 12:03 pm

    Right now with COVID-19 quarantine, I just look forward to opening my eyes every morning and thanking God for another day that he has gifted me with. My big “looking forward to” moment is planned for September at the beach with most all of my family – sons, daughters-in-law, grandkids and their spouses, and my great-grandbabies. These people are just another gift that I thank God for every day.

    Reply
  13. Linda Clifton - May 15, 2020 12:10 pm

    Yes looking forward to something might just be the key to happiness. My husband & I right now look forward to the warmth of springtime, sunny days, & the mountains laurel blooming in the mountains of Murphy NC. Even though projects on the cabin & yard work were not things we looked forward too, now they are . A good days work makes us feel useful. Sitting on the couch makes us feel we have wasted the day. We are both in our seventies & are so thankful we are both still healthy during this time .
    I look forward to getting up in the mornings, taking a deep breath & being thankful I’ve seen another morning. Simple life is the best.
    Sending love & light to you both! ❤️🙏

    Reply
  14. Nell Thomas - May 15, 2020 12:13 pm

    My phone pings around 2-3 am. I know it’s your words of wisdom, encouragement and entertainment coming through. Sometimes I grab my phone to see what you have to say and other times save it to have something to “look forward to” after the chores are done.
    I love to write. I look forward to a few quite moments to just relax and put some thoughts on paper.
    Thank you for giving a ton of folks something to look forward to.

    Reply
  15. Betty F. - May 15, 2020 12:19 pm

    Thanks again for simple, but profound coping strategies.

    Reply
  16. Mike McKay - May 15, 2020 12:27 pm

    Happiness is simply smooth gravy and comfortable boots every thing else will work itself out

    Reply
  17. wgarysmith999 - May 15, 2020 12:39 pm

    I also look forward to your writings each day. Keep Bill’s advice. Look forward to touching a lot of people’s heart and life. Plan a “vacation”. You do not have to travel far to do so…..

    Reply
  18. MR - May 15, 2020 1:27 pm

    I made the grave mistake of reading the news this morning before I read your blog. The news depressed me horribly, but after cracking up out loud about your tent story, I got my priorities in order and look forward to having a good day today, despite the chaos of politics and pandemic. I will NEVER read the news first. Starting off with your blog puts me starting my day off with laughter or something good about the world – and THAT, Sean, is what I look forward to.

    Reply
  19. Jo - May 15, 2020 1:31 pm

    Thanks Sean for the inspiration. I’m going to make some plans for a trip to look forward to.

    Reply
  20. C R - May 15, 2020 1:32 pm

    This post hit the nail on the head (without thumb contact)-Thanks!

    Reply
  21. Bobbie - May 15, 2020 1:36 pm

    I learned this very early in my life, before internet and instant info. I started in January planning our summer vacation. I spent hours looking thru brochures I ordered from the Chamber of Commerce and scanning my road atlas, marking our route. The planning was as much fun, maybe more, than the doing! I read something a while back that resonates with Bills philosophy, except it adds two more things. The secret of happiness they said is “Someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.” I so agree. Thank you for giving us all one something every day to look forward to. Right now I’m looking forward to a waffle and a bowl of grits swimming in butter at the Waffle House😃. After that, hopefully a family gathering at a park on a sunny day!
    God bless you
    Bobbie

    Reply
  22. Joan Jannaman - May 15, 2020 2:06 pm

    What great advice! I too look forward to your posts everyday. Our family has always done the “something to look forward” system in life and it serves us well. When this whole quarantine started the first book I read was “Stars of Alabama”. I had seen the ad for it on social media and jotted the title down many months ago…for when I had more time to read. After falling in love with the way this Sean Dietrich author wrote….I read “Will the Circle Be Ubroken” …. and now I’m hooked forever. Your writing feels so honest and authentic and we can all use more of that… along with your incredible talent for uplifting people…and always making us smile even if it’s along with misty eyeballs. Today I noticed that YOUR name is on the WONDERFUL ink sketches at the top of the blog posts! No wonder those sketches go so well with the writing….same hand and heart created them….I was thrilled to see that! So let me get this straight…you are a hardworking and talented writer, storyteller, musician, and visual artist??? well if that’s not a Southern Renaissance man, I’m not sure what is. A thank you also to Jamie, who became your wife. it sounds like she saw and encouraged all of these traits in you before you even saw all of them yourself. THANK you Sean for sharing your gifts with the rest of us!

    Reply
  23. Harry Larimer - May 15, 2020 3:26 pm

    My dad used to call me every morning to tell me he made another, “Roll Call!” I’d reply, “ Well dad, you just keep on making them roll calls.” He’d always come back with, “ You know I’m going to do that, I want to stick around to see what happens next!”

    This is a great story Sean. Your talent has taken me back to a happier time. Thank you!

    Reply
  24. Patricia A Schmaltz - May 15, 2020 3:34 pm

    For what it’s worth.. I look forward to reading YOUR posts every day. We also have a vacation to France scheduled for late August… if travel permits. Gotta get back to living and not worrying about dying so much. My husband likes to say ‘Life: nobody gets out of it alive’…
    Thank you!!!

    Reply
  25. Linda Moon - May 15, 2020 4:30 pm

    A Pictionary picture of lines that were supposed to resemble an actual Snowball are part of our family lore between a granddad and his grandchildren. “SNOWBALL!!” is still sometimes shouted loudly with frustration and laughter between them because someone (I’m not saying who…) was offended that NOBODY recognized his drawing! Another true story: years ago the Bee Gees’ song “Staying Alive” got stuck in my brain for a long period of time.
    Since then, I’ve had a 15-year cancer battle and I’m still staying alive. I sometimes wonder why that particular song took up residence in my brain. So, there’s always something to look forward to: just LIFE itself, as you so eloquently write about, Sean of the South. Keep writing. Be alive. Just for me. And maybe for some of those 66,574 other people, too! We all look forward to hearing from you in this weird world. And maybe you can look forward to hearing from a few of us, too, after you’ve sorted through all the gazillions of your fans and followers!!

    Reply
  26. Goober Fife - May 15, 2020 8:25 pm

    Yes, Looking forward definitely has new meaning these days….I’m looking forward to hanging out with my Mayberry Cronies again.. I’m sure Allan (Floyd) explained to you all the Mayberry events we do.
    It would be nice if you could join us sometime Sean you would love it!…..

    Reply
  27. cekey44 - May 15, 2020 11:17 pm

    Brother Dave Garner said, “Success is getting what you want, Happiness Is wanting what you get.” One of the happiest people I know doesn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to through it out. He is just happy with what he gets.

    Reply
  28. Nancy M - May 16, 2020 5:27 am

    I look forward to reading your column, in the evening when there are more comments! Your readers leave such nice comments. I don’t dare read the comments to my local TV station’s Facebook posts. I’m always sorry if I do, but your readers are nice folks, like you are.
    Another thing I look forward to is my daily walk in our quiet neighborhood. There’s a small colony of Canada geese up the road, and some of them have babies. I look forward to seeing them.

    Reply
  29. Chasity Davis Ritter - May 16, 2020 6:11 am

    My momma figured this little thing out years ago..to always have something to look forward to. I’d say she taught it to me and my brothers and I know my cousin picked up in it from her too. The last couple of years my cousin has gone after that goal in such a big way. She has concerts and little parties and fishing trips with her husband planned. They would go to Vegas sometimes or to Thunder Basketball games and to see OU play (we are Okies Incase it doesn’t show). But this year has changed so very much. The concerts have been cancelled.. the trips waiting to be rescheduled… and home parties with just her and her husband in quarantine just aren’t the same as having friends over and going all out for what ever theme she had planned. As a matter of fact today is her husband’s 50th birthday and she had been looking forward to it for a year. She had such big plans but it was just them two and a couple of steaks on the grill and he was asleep on the couch by 7:30 having a nap. Welcome to 50 I guess. Sean, this is my favorite cousin. I love her more than I love myself. There are things I’ve had to cancel, trips to see the grandkids that haven’t happened. My daughter’s spring season baseball games with the Dream League but my heart has truly hurt for her. And it’s more than her events that have been cancelled. Her Dad passed away last Thursday. She had to join this incredibly sucky club that you and I both belong to. And yes they can’t have the big funeral that he deserves. She’s still planning to do a small grave side later. Her Dad was a Veteran. Spent 4 years in Vietnam. He deserves his military send off. He earned that folded flag on his casket. She deserves hugs from her family and that extra long hard squeeze that says I do know how bad it hurts. Not just these lousy text messages and phone calls. I know life and sometimes most times death isn’t fair either. I know so many are missing so very much right now. But yeah there are still things to look forward to. We look forward to when this gets better. To when restrictions are lifted and we can celebrate and even morn together. When we can appreciate so much more all the little things we may have begun to take for granted. We can look forward to hugs and sloppy grand kid kisses or nieces and nephews too. When we can go to graduations again and so much more. Ultimately no matter what if we believe like the lady you were interviewing then we can look forward to the day when we are reunited with all our loved ones one the other side… when all of us can see our Daddies again. Thanks for reminding me today not to forget to have those things how ever big or small they may be to look forward to. Just like I look forward to reading your blogs each day. There is always something good in there to make me feel some one else always understands and may be feeling just the same.

    Reply
  30. Susan - May 16, 2020 3:40 pm

    I had no idea so many people knew this about having something to look forward to.
    I thought my mother came up with that. I remember her saying that all my life and I came to understand she was right. Now at four score years with COVID all around the options seem to be fewer, but I keep trying.
    Your writings are one thing I look forward to. Thanks Sean!

    Reply
  31. Robert Chiles - May 16, 2020 8:16 pm

    Wisdom! From the preacher in Ecclesiastes: Be happy, enjoy life, work, and love, and accomplishment. Because life is what you get. Enjoy it.

    Reply

Leave a Comment