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Contentment Is a Point of View

Personal Perspective: As we go through our days, we can choose how to react. 

Key points

  • Zimbabweans with impoverished lives live joyfully, reminding me to appreciate life's fundamentals.
  • Happiness and contentment are choices that we can make.
  • We can choose how to respond and react to life.
Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe
The local marketplace in Zimbabwe
Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe

While in Zimbabwe this fall, we visited a home for older people. We first stopped at a local marketplace to bring the eleven residents various grains, fruits, and vegetables, as suggested by our tour guide, Rickus.

I use the word "home" loosely as it isn't a residence as defined by the Western world. We walked through the unpaved dirt, arriving at the main room, which serves as the kitchen, cafeteria, and auditorium. Before arriving at this facility, the residents, ages 17 to 110, had been homeless, several from other African countries. The three angels in charge (and I use this word literally) volunteer, committing themselves to caring for the women and men as lovingly as possible.

Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe
The fruits, vegetables, and grains we purchased for residents.
Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe

The concrete bedrooms have two cots with a blanket and a few pieces of clothing piled on the ground. I only briefly viewed the toilet facilities because the smell of urine was overwhelming and nauseating.

I wanted to look away, yet I needed to see what my privileged eyes had never witnessed. We were told we could talk to two of the residents. One woman was in her 80s, and the other was "the" 110-year-old. They sat outside their rooms on old, discolored newspapers, covering the dirt below them. They were gratefully smiling.

Through translation by one of the volunteers, the older women told us they were so happy to be there. They had no family and no friends, but they were just happy to be alive and taken care of. Happy to be there, I wondered. How was that possible? I viewed their lives through my fortunate First World eyes, judging their existence through the American version of my own life.

Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe
A joyful 80-year-old resident.
Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe

Silly Frustrations: My electric garage door gets stuck when I push the button, so I have to push it again and wait for the door to return to start the process. The market is out of the jumbo eggs I enjoy. There's a line at the least expensive gas station, forcing me to pay more somewhere else or wait behind two other cars.

I talk to my friend on my cell phone, and we are disconnected. I speak to my husband, who doesn't hear me right away, so I have to repeat myself, sometimes twice. I take my yogurt out of the refrigerator for lunch, and it drops out of my hands; the container opens, and the contents splatter all over the floor.

My two Kindles don't sync, so I have to find the page where I last read. My Wi-Fi goes out, and I lose connection during my Zoom meeting. I could go on, but these minor frustrations seem quite ridiculous when I think back to the peaceful, impoverished, elderly Zimbabwean woman happily sitting in the dirt outside her makeshift dormitory, with nothing but the sunshine surrounding her.

Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe
Happy to be alive at 110.
Source: Courtesy of Barbara Jaffe

What is Happiness? Contentment? I have always contemplated the definition of happiness and contentment, and I am a firm believer that we can choose to be happy or unhappy (I am not referring to those with medical depression).

What is the definition of contentment, then? Indeed, it was not my sparkly shoes or bright pink coat that might enrich my life for the moment.

As we go through our days, we can choose how to react. We are wired a certain way, and with an understanding of ourselves, we can observe how we respond and adjust our responses when needed.

Changed on the Inside: I left that home in Zimbabwe quite changed internally. I was appreciative to have the gift of travel, of course.

Still, most of all, I was grateful to have met these two incredibly inspiring older women and their angelic caregivers who reminded me yet again to recalibrate, to reorganize my thoughts, to appreciate the basics of my life: family, friends, love, food, and sunshine.

More from Barbara A Jaffe Ed.D.
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