He wondered if maybe everyone else in the world knew the answer to it the question, and that perhaps he had been in the restroom when they were all being told.
He couldn’t see why everyone else was able to smile, walk and talk at the same time and he found it impossible.
Life was stupid, and sad, and basically it got him down. He saw the kids in school who all seemed to be able to cope with things. Now and again, he imagined he saw a look in another person’s eyes that said – I don’t understand this either – but if he looked again, it normally had gone away and he thought that perhaps he had only imagined it.
So one Friday morning, he decided that he wasn’t going to bed that night until he found out the secret of life. Was there a book they had all read, and he hadn’t seen? Were there classes he could go to that would tell him everything he needed to know?
The first person he met in the hall was his Grandfather.
“Granddad, what is the secret of life?”
And his grandfather thought carefully, scratched his beard, and then smiled.
“The secret, my little special boy, is to tell everyone what they want to hear. I tell your Grandma she looks lovely everyday of her life. I tell you you’re good at football.”
“But I ain’t good at football, Granddad.”
“Who says? Not me.”
And his grandfather walked away whistling to himself.
The boy went down to the kitchen where his mother was making breakfast for him.
“Sit down, little one,” she says to her son.
“What is the secret of life?”
She thought for a while and then looked up at the ceiling. The boy looked at the ceiling too, to see if there was something his mother was reading – but there wasn’t anything. Just a big stain from where his grandfather had let the bath overfill, last Christmas.
She ruffled her son’s hair.
“What’s got you in this mood?”
“Just wondering, I guess.”
“Well let me see. The secret of life is to get up every morning even when you don’t want to. When you know there are folks depending on you, that’s what makes you jump right out of bed.”
“And that’s it?”
His dad walked with the boy down to the school bus.
“Dad, what is the secret of life?”
“Is this a school project you were supposed to do?” Asked his father.
“Nope, just wondering.”
“Well ain’t my boy growing up.” So his dad thought for a while and looked up at the sky. The boy looked up too, to see if there was writing in the clouds, but there wasn’t.
“Well son, the secret of life is to do what your Mom says.”
Later in the morning, his teacher, Miss Sycamore was teaching about the Arctic Circle. She asked the class if there were any questions.
The boy put his hand in the air, and when Miss Sycamore, pointed to him, he asked:
“Miss Sycamore, what is the secret of life?”
All the kids looked at the boy, who had gone a little red in the face.
“That’s a strange question for a lesson about the frozen north. Let me see.”
And like all the adults, she looked at the roof too, as if she was getting some sort of inspiration.
“The secret of life is to do your homework, wash every day and pray every night. Yep, that’s it for sure.”
The boy thought that maybe this was more to do with Miss Sycamore, than the secret of life.
That night as he lay in bed, he realized that everyone had a different secret for the way they dealt with life.
Just like Miss Sycamore, the secret seemed to be to do with what made you happy. But what, thought the boy, if what made you happy, didn’t make other people happy?
So he got down by the side of his bed and started praying.
His older brother, who he shared a room, started whispering real loud.
“What you doing?”
“At this time of night?”
“Is there a good time?”
“Yep, never. What’s got your goat?”
“I want to know the secret of life.”
“The secret, little brother, is to keep your mouth shut so you won’t get beaten up.”
And with that his brother rolled over and went back to dreaming of being a big baseball star.
The boy clasped his hands again and started praying.
“Dear God, if you could tell me the secret of life, that would be really good. Amen.”
With that the boy jumped back into bed and fell asleep.
It was in the morning, at breakfast, as he looked around the kitchen. There was his Mom cooking, as she always did, and like she always did, she looked over and blew him a kiss. There was his grandfather and brother arguing about some sport thing or other, and both of them tussled the boy’s hair as they passed.
Then it struck him; wasn’t the secret of life just to appreciate what you had? There was always something good in a life, and sure there were lots of bad things.
But one good thing, sunk a thousand bad ones, and the boy smiled all the way to the bus stop.
All the way.
bobby stevenson 2017