AND HAPPINESS TOO…
Today someone challenged me to write a blog about something happy. And the challenge rang true. There’s been a lot of heaviness on this tiny corner of the internet since I started plugging away at it last November. It struck me as funny though, because I’m one of the happiest people I know—at least I think I am. Or, at least one of the more joyful. (I read something long ago about the difference between happiness and joy. While I can’t recall now what it was, I do remember that the difference made sense to me.) Actually, I’ll stand there. I think I’m both.
I have many, many wonderful things in my life: Numerous deep and true friendships. Committed family who though-we-are-very-different and don’t-always-see-eye-to-eye is really in it for the long haul with me, besides being a whole lot of crazy, chaotic fun (I’m the oldest of 7 kids). A good and sustaining job doing work I care about. A great partner. Two happy children who mostly treat each other with love and make me laugh often. Many, many adults who are deeply invested in my children’s lives, who I know will be there for and with them, however their journeys go.
So my first response when my partner said this was to get a little bit defensive. (Oh yeah, it was my partner. Did I mention we’re on a four-month family adventure in a remote mountain town of 700 people? Not a ton of other adult conversation partners happening for us right now). She’s not the first to have brought my tendency towards the intense to my attention. I’ll put it this way: my early morning reading since we got here has been James Cones’ The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
“But wait!” was my internal response, “How lousy would it be of me to dwell on all the good in my life when there is so much pain, suffering and injustice all around me? That’s what motivates my work and my writing! (So there.)”
But then, I thought, “Wow. Given how much good is in my life how lousy is that if I don’t dwell on and appreciate that more?”
Talk about a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t situation: unappreciative to under focus on the good in my life and insensitive to the aches of so many others to over focus on it? Is this a dead-end paradox I have managed to simply invent in my own mind?
In thinking this through I began to notice how much this “dead-end paradox” actually feeds into the tendency and temptation to always, already separate our personal lives from our collective lives. Even the way I experienced the dilemma of under or over focusing on the good in “my” life and what this means about how I see “the world” or “other’s” lives draws a hard boundary between the two. It’s a false boundary, of course. Whether we like it or not we aren’t little separate atoms walking around in isolation from anything. At every point we are connected.
The fact is I want to find ways to concretely appreciate those connections (and not assume that care about one comes at the expense of the other). I’m interested in wholeness; thus the tag line of this blog “living at the intersections of self. social. spirit.”
On top of that, the writing and living I most admire is done by folks who completely wed the beauty of life with an honest, unflinching look at how hard life can often be. For me, somehow, it’s in an honest contending with the hard stuff that the deepest and most authentic experiences of beauty and joy come. There’s something in that equation that keeps the beautiful stuff from being cheapened somehow by turning it into mere sentimentality or from becoming a kind of happiness that, at the end of the day, is dependent on things going well and thus vulnerable to evaporating when they don’t.
But the folks whose writing and living I admire most, usually go the other direction too. They know that as hard life can be, it is utterly, unflinchingly beauteous and they can begin there. Going this direction is much harder for me.
It’s so easy to focus more on the hard stuff. How could it not be when there is so much hard stuff around?
So, my partner’s challenge has me musing. I’m at no risk at forgetting to attend to what is difficult and this post doesn’t come because I think I should. But, what would happen if I tried to also practice concretely and consistently beginning with the beauty? Paying more attention to the “spirit” part of “self. social. spirit.”? Could that dead-end paradox turn into a radically different kind of wholeness?
I don’t know. I’m not sure I even have the question right. But just thinking about it has me feeling a litany of happy coming on.
A four-year old on a one-mile mountain trek who loved it! Never asking to be carried, instead, wanting to lead the group, pick up pine cones and start a rock collection (out of rocks an adult sees as the most plain, dull rocks ever–beautiful to her).
A partner who sanded and stained an old, old desk so I would have a lovely place to write this summer.
A glass of red wine and a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.
A two-year old watching “Mary Poppins” for the first time with very big eyes and an occasional bob of the head to the music. Oh yeah, and who insisted on going to sleep in her sock monkey hat for the third time this week.
A dog sleeping in the warm sunshine without a care in the world.
Memories that connect much of what happened this today to past experiences that had equal amounts of beauty in them; beauty I see and feel despite the many challenges along the way.
Naming these things doesn’t actually seem to me like participating in sentiment or fluff. It seems like calling my attention to gratitude. I wonder what would happen if I named and truly dwelled in such things every day. I wonder what your list looks like.
There is so much good.
Thanks for the reminder.