Monday, January 26, 2009

The Thaw (Or: The Danger of Happiness)

The unbearably cold and dry winter is about to dump welcome quantities of snow onto Cincinnati. We expect 5-8 inches of pile up. I shoveled our long sloping drive and shook ice melt out of a bag on the tire tracks hoping to stave off a much bigger task tomorrow. We plan to drink tea next to a toasty fire while watching snowflakes swirl past our windows.

Yet the title of this post is "The Thaw" and really has nothing to do with snow or storms. My life has been frozen for the last two months. Apart from Obama's big win (and can't we just admit that it's delicious to hear that man every day behind a microphone?), my personal life has been virtually impossible to write about. Now that we're a bit into January, the paralysis of the last eight weeks has eased and I feel ready to resume some kind of daily practice (i.e. writing) again.

A long time ago in a far away land (iow, last April on the Santa Cruz coast), I smoked a cigarette. I couldn't have known then that that confounding-of-self act would launch an internal revolution. Since April, everything has changed. My insides are rearranged and I can't go back to the way it used to be, you know, back when I was happy. I've believed in my happiness for a very long time. I could prove it! I had evidence, daily rituals and corroborating testimonies.

But one day, I felt happy. And that changed everything. I mean, I got knocked off my feet by happiness - the real kind. It's really strange when that happens. Unexpected. (Jane Kenyon has a fabulous poem by that name that expresses it perfectly.) I couldn't go back to merely believing in happiness once I'd felt it. The trouble was, happiness exposed the sham, the falseness, the mixed up mess that had been my life. Truth is, I spent a good long while tolerating mistreatment and papering over it, carefully editing out pain... and calling that life, happy.

I started counseling in April, after that trip to California where my soul had gasped for air and discovered the power of oxygen. I told my sister in a Facebook chat the other day: If you don't want to change your life, don't go to counseling. It's a snowball running downhill. Once you admit that your life isn't working, you have to face it and do something about it. I mean, you are paying all that money and telling all that truth. Dangerous combination for the status quo!

Sure, there have been days in these last nine months when I wanted to go back to the time when I lived an oblivious, seemingly happy life... except now that I know that it wasn't, I can't find the way back.

You can't smoke a cigarette on the beach, enjoy it, and return to the old life. That's what I know now.


julieunplugged said...

Here's Jane's poem. I just reread it and fell in love again. She's one of my sacred path guides.


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Jane Kenyon

musing said...

Love you.

kimmy said...

I wanna watch snow and drink tea with you and yes, risk some happiness too.
a very touching post for me.