"Busy people are happy people." My mother-in-law laughed when she said it. I did too because I thought she had to be joking. That was before I knew it was her mantra.
To look at her, you wouldn't think she was busy. When running late she didn't hurry. "We'll get there when we get there." I spent hours sitting her the kitchen while she created multi-course meals without breaking a sweat. The conversation was so good I missed how she did it. Maybe her secret ingredient was magic.
Her body stayed still while her mind raced. People's problems were beloved puzzles. She worked on them while on the factory line, and driving during rush hour, and watching TV, and sleeping. Difficult answers came through dreams and often she was the solution.
My brother-in-law and his wife divorced and neither was ready to be a single parent. After they both tried and failed, she offered to take custody of their son on the condition they maintained a parental relationship. They agreed and she made sure they did. Just when life was easing up for her, she had a three year old to raise. I told her that wasn't fair and she asked when life ever was. "Besides, busy people are happy people."
She married her biggest problem. Her husband was older than she was, but not grown. His mother died when he was eleven, and after that he was on his own. He was prone to drinking and gambling and general foolishness. But he made her laugh more than anyone else. She learned how to let him indulge without destroying himself.
Eight years ago they moved to Florida. My brother-in-law wanted to live closer to his son and grandchildren and invited his parents to come with him. She reasoned the move would be better for her husband. It wasn't just to escape the harsh Chicago winters that hurt his decaying bones. There were young men in the neighborhood taking advantage of him. He thought they liked him because he was Mr. Cool. He gave them rides, and money, and held guns for them.
My father-in-law died two years ago. She used to say he was the worst mistake she ever made, but without him she doesn't know who she is.
We give suggestions of things to do, and places to go. We offer plane tickets, travel clothes, a new suitcase, spending money, and guest rooms waiting for her. She tells us she'll think about it, but knows how busy we all are. "Busy people, are happy people.” We heard that so many times, we believed it.
But it wasn’t keeping busy that made her happy. It was saving the people she loved. Now it's our turn.