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The rare gift of everyday joy

"Hey Pratik, it sure is a beautiful day, isn't it," asked Mr. Smith.

"It sure is, sir, how's the yard work coming along?" I replied.

"Oh, it's coming. Say, do you wanna throw some horseshoes out in my back yard?" he asked.

"I'd love to, sir, but I have to pick up some groceries for my Ma," I said.

"Well, all right, some other time then. Have a good day, son," he replied.

Mr. Kenneth Smith was consistently the happiest man I ever met. Whether it was 50 degrees or 100 degrees, every day to him was beautiful just the same. And every day, from dusk till dawn, he worked in his garden. My mother would be worried if she didn't see him in his garden outside our kitchen window. He moved in a few years back, after I had already gone away to school, so I did not get to know him as well as I would have liked, but I knew him well enough to know of his passions.

He loved his wife and his children. He loved his garden. He loved to talk about his disenchantment with the French and his refusal to use pesticides. He loved playing horseshoes. But above all, he loved beautiful days.

News of Mr. Smith was always relayed to me by my parents. A son relishes anything that brings a smile to his mother's face, and Mr. Smith did just that. He'd look over our house when we were gone; he'd pick up our paper, our mail, and even those scraggly weeds that sometimes surfaced through our grass. We'd always talk of our two Ken S. friends: our great neighbors, Mr. Ken Schneider, and Mr. Ken Smith. Neighborly love was foreign to us until we moved to our current house. What a joy it is to have people you can count on so much.

But good times do not last forever, do they? Perhaps because if they did so, we'd forget what good times really were. On a cold October morning in Boston, my mom called to give me the news. "Mr. Smith is sick," she said, her voice wavering. My father explained the illness, and I knew what it meant. I told myself as soon as I came home for winter break, I'd go visit him. I'd thank him and listen to him. I'd laugh with him. I'd cry with him. I'd tend to his garden, even if he could not.

I came back home a couple of weeks too late. It was the first time I had been back since Mr. Smith's passing. I walked in our yard and felt as horrible and lonely as I had felt in a long time. A comforting figure that I had now come to expect to be out there was missing. The smell of upcoming rain filled the air around me, and the noises of nature made their sounds. It felt like someone was trying to talk to me, when in truth, it was my conscience bringing forth its own questions and revelations.

I stood in the rain as the pessimism of death haunted my thoughts. But after a while, the sun shone harder, rays of light breaking through the clouds illuminating and bringing forth memories of a man and his lesson. A lesson so long hidden from me, but one that now finally dawned on me.

I'm so sorry, Mr. Smith; I thought of you when my mama told me you were sick. You wouldn't know it now, but I withstood the rare December rain to play horseshoes in your yard. And in the meanwhile, I asked God to never let me take one day for granted. I will not allow myself to forget your memory and the great lesson you taught me: Every day is a beautiful day, because beautiful days aren't a state of our surroundings, but rather a state of our minds.

_ Pratik Patel, a Lecanto High School graduate, is studying law and medicine at Harvard University.