Several years ago, a tiny book called Life’s Little Instruction Book was a best-selling phenomenon. H. Jackson Browne wrote the book as a gift to his son who was going to college. If you were alive on this planet 20 or so years ago, you know of this book. It was everywhere. I had the privilege of briefly working for the original publisher of the book, jokingly referred to by those of us in marketing as “The House that Jack Built.”
It was such a simple and rather obvious concept. Despite its simplicity (or maybe because of it), the book spent almost a year at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Copycat publications began to fall like rain behind it.
As a young writer, I longed for that kind of publishing success and wracked my brain trying to create a similar premise for a book. Creating the simple is often the most difficult task.
With Mother’s Day just behind us, I’ve been thinking about my mom. Well, of course. In the story arc of my time with my mother, what she has taught me is not exactly conducive to book form. Sure, she has given me quite a few lessons over the years, but there is a definite and predominant theme which would ultimately be the whole of any literary endeavor built around her wisdom. It has been my mother’s answer to everything: “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
When I feigned sickness to avoid school as a child, that was her swift reply. I suppose some mothers might feel a forehead or sit at the edge of the bed in pursuit of further information about the purported illness. Not mom. As she would zip through my room, probably putting away freshly folded clothes or (often) running a vacuum cleaner as my alarm clock, she would fling the phrase over her shoulder. No matter how pathetic I made my plea sound, her response was the same: “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
And the part I couldn’t easily admit as a child was that she was almost always right. Even when I did have some aches or pains which might have justified my complaint, usually if I just started moving they began to dissipate.
Over the years, I have heard my mother’s voice echoing in my brain on many occasions. When I was ill or depressed or just in a general funk, I could hear my mother advocating her cure for everything.
When life felt untenable and just generally bigger than me, “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.” When a job or my checkbook or the mess in the garage seemed out of control, “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.” When my heart or my spirit or my hope was broken, “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”
It’s no secret that exercise can combat depression. My mother knew that far before it became the conventional wisdom of mental health, though in her eyes exercise is a waste of precious time you could actually use to work and accomplish something. Of all the great wisdom in the world she could have passed on, in her endlessly pragmatic way my mother gave me the one piece that is actually useful in most situations.
I hope my mother is on this earth for many more years. But, when the time should come for her to slip this mortal coil, this will be my vote for her epitaph: “Get up and move around; you’ll feel better.”