RAY! Syndrome, an antidote to the trap of self-improvement

The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now, as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself, a marvelous victory.

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times by Howard Zinn

My mother, Rita Catherine Kronenberger Kambitsch Huxtable, RIP, lived a life punctuated by outrageous tragedy.

Teenage Rita

Growing up during the Great Depression, losing her father when she was a teenager, widowed at the age of 39 with six young children, surviving the loss of her eldest daughter, putting up with me and all my shenanigans, remarrying a man with more teenagers, having another child (grand total: 13), taking care of her second husband during his dementia, my mom had it rough.

Yet, through all her heartaches, during her golden years, my mother grew to be happy, silly, flirtatious and even charismatic.

Rita as young adult, first row, far right

How did Mom maintain compassionate optimism despite all the troubles she’d seen? Was it her faith in Jesus? An innate loving kindness? A strength passed on to her from her own mother? Hard to tell. I don’t profess to understand this complex and often contradictory woman at all. There is one quality that I can point to that I think I understand. When I’m at by best, I can see this trait in myself. I’ll call this quality

RAY! Syndrome: A rare behavioral tendency appearing in old age and characterized by prolonged cheers of “RAY!” Outbursts are typically preceded by a vaguely fortunate circumstance or momentary small accomplishment.

Mom didn’t always have RAY! syndrome, and I’m not quite sure when it started. But at some point when her grand children were very young, probably during some body’s potty training, or early walking attempts she started sing-songing RAY! to them. Short for “hooray”, RAY! was a spontaneous encouragement, a celebration, affirmation.

Rita, mother of three

Soon Mom was saying “RAY” more often and in more settings and to more people all the time. Major causes for celebration earned RAY, accomplishments, a negative test result, the arrival of a loved one at the airport, a home run.

Small things, too, get a RAY. Blow out one of the candles on your cake. “RAY.”

Batter makes it to first base? “RAY.”

Find your keys in the pocket of your coat where you left them? “RAY.”

The older Mom grew, the lower the bar for RAY! seemed to get. Sun comes out? RAY. You pencil in an answer to 24 across? RAY. Flip on the switch and the lights turn on? RAY! The doctor is ready to see you, and he’s cute. RAY!

Rita, mother of five with her beloved Howard

Everyone in the family, even those who never knew Mom, now says RAY. We say it during times for celebration, reunion, reaching important milestones. It’s a way of keeping Mom present with us, now many years since she’s been gone.

I find myself saying RAY! a lot. It helps me to acknowledge when things occasionally and actually go my way.

RAY! when I’ve encountered a small hurdle.

RAY! when I continue to work on a project even if I don’t feel like it. RAY! when I finish a workout. RAY! when the sun comes up.

RAY! when I remember to clean my glasses.

RAY! is a gift. Easily accessible, infinitely available. The more RAY you give, the more you get back. RAY! is my access to the present. Allows me experience gratitude for what is happening here and now, no matter how much shit is hitting the fans.

In RAY! All bars are lowered. Expect NOTHING! Give yourself a big fat unconditional RAY for no reason. Didn’t get all your shit done? RAY! Did you jump off the strive-y, cult of productivity and busy-ness train? RAY! Can you jump back on tomorrow? Yes? RAY! Does this mean you’ll never get anything done? No? RAY!

I RAY! for you not because of what you accomplish or how many check marks you made in your bullet journal, but just because.

Just RAY!

Rita (left) with my beautiful sister Maribeth, or is it the other way around?

P.S. You don’t have to have RAY! Syndrome to enjoy it’s benefits. Faking works too. Just take a breath, outstretch your arms, know that you and others around you are wonderful, and let it out. RAY!