The great intangible.
May 17, 2013 § 10 Comments
At first, happiness was a store window, everything I wanted behind shiny plate-glass, unattainable, but brightly lit.
In my ordinary life I had a lot: a loving family, plenty to eat, other kids to play with. Still, I pressed my nose to the glass and yearned for more.
If I couldn’t touch happiness I could always describe it.
At ten, happiness looked like a pair of black patent leather T-strap shoes, with princess heels of course. The happiness that would be granted by putting on those shoes included confidence, head-turning beauty, a satisfying click as I paraded down the hall—the full happiness package.
The dog of my imagination would love me as-is, would understand me, would not talk behind my back, would not care that I wasn’t popular, high-achieving or cool. Happiness had a wet nose.
Until I discovered boys. That guy with curly black hair who just moved here from California? If he would only notice me, like me, call me on the phone…
But if he did call I’d probably say something stupid, and the happiness would be crushed like a stomped paper cup. I’d embarrass myself, and then would come the long night of regret when I played his smooth line and my dorko answer over and over. I’d try to pass myself off as sick in the morning.
He never did call, but I concentrated so hard on that dream of happiness, electrified by its promise of bliss and its potential for disaster that I bet I walked right past happiness every day. Maybe it was too ordinary, but more likely I failed to see it because I hadn’t chosen it. I was into pining and I did it well.
For most of my life I have selected what I thought would make me happy, sometimes going after it with a specific plan, but more often trusting the power of wishful thinking to attract an outcome, an object, an undying affection.
Just as money is the medium of exchange for everything from a can of soda to a trip to the south of France, the shoes, the dog, the guy who never called were the medium of exchange for that great intangible, happiness.
In the rare case when planning or wishing worked, the having rarely lived up to the wanting. The new shoes rubbed my heels raw. The dog, although wonderful, tore the screen out of the front door and threw up on the rug. Not discouraged, I always found something else to yearn for. As a result happiness remained somewhere just out of reach.
But I kept reaching. The way I saw it, in order for life to light up, ring wildly, and spit out abundant happiness I had to play the game absolutely right and be lucky–I just hadn’t found the right combination.
It is as ephemeral and as palpable as grace.
It is a double rainbow suddenly glimpsed over the rooftops of the same old neighborhood.
Unlike the elaborate happiness I constructed in my imagination, true happiness has few moving parts. It does not trip the wires of wealth and fame.
It is more akin to light and air; an enveloping good.
Happiness washes over each of us in its own way. For me it comes when I stand in the yard with my husband and watch the Mississippi kites nesting in our pine, or when I sing harmony or find a beautifully marked leaf on the road when I go for my morning walk, or see something as if for the first time because I’m with my three-year-old grandson.
We exist in the ordinary and hope for happiness.
Often, when least expected, it comes.