The most moving speaker at the AAFP convention I went to in Denver a few months ago was a doctor with Stage 4 cancer who had survived well past all expectations for his disease. While talking about achieving happiness through balance in life, he pulled out of his wallet a card made for him by his daughter, a preschool teacher.
“This is the C card,” he told us. “It says, ‘I have cancer. I can do whatever I want.'”
What a great idea, I thought. As much as it resonated with me, though, I couldn’t help but feel there was more to it than that.
Recently I was comforting a dear friend who had lost her mother. Remembering this handout from the AAFP, I held her close and said, “You’re a mourner now. You can do whatever you want.” I might as well said, “You have the M card.”
There’s this crotchety old guy in his eighties whom I’ve known for years. He does whatever he wants. I don’t think he actually carries a card in his wallet that says, “This is the O card. I am old; I can do whatever I want”, but he might as well. He is indeed old, and so he is entitled.
Please understand that I am not speaking about total abandon; freedom to rape, murder, pillage, stay home in bed all day, refuse to pay taxes, and so forth. Within the broad context of fulfilling one’s obligations to society — caring for one’s family, body, and finances — I think the secret of true happiness is discovering sooner rather than later the freedom to do whatever you want.
Call it the H card. Just being human ought to be enough to do whatever we want. We can wear purple; we can paint our fingernails black (and any other parts of our bodies as well); we can eat cake for dinner; we can ride shopping carts through the parking lot. I don’t think we should wait until we have cancer, or lose a loved one, or blow out some arbitrary number of birthday candles, to do whatever we want…and to be happy.