Back in my early twenties, a close friend and I had this running debate going. We were students together, worked together, and although we were in many ways polar opposites, we were such good friends. We met within the first week of classes my first year, and our friendship held from then until my marriage and first birth, when I got enveloped in a certain wonder child’s wiggly ten toes and fingers and could hardly see anything else, wrapped in the blanket of motherhood so deeply that when I emerged, I found we had not really kept up with things and both of us had moved on.
But in our way of not agreeing on things back then, we had an ongoing discussion about the place of “place” in a person’s happy making. He was ever ready to be finished with his studies, hungry to move away, to get out of the Midwest. He had no fondness for this seemingly nondescript town in the middle of Nebraska. I, on the other hand, was not so hard on it. I could see the places where it shined and loved the people particularly shiny who lived there. To be completely fair, it was probably easier for me to call on its graces because the University that we attended was in a town just miles from where I grew up. I had a special kind of love for it that I could call on when needed, that childhood familiarity.
But I did understand, some. I had spent my teen years plotting my own escape from that landscape through colleges way out here on the west coast not far from where I’ve landed myself now. All of those options were more than appealing, the end goal of all those straight A’s I’d busied myself with in high school. But in the end, a full scholarship seemed more reasonable than high costs, and I started to look forward to sharing these years with friends I was already close to. In the end, I knew, I didn’t want to be out here alone. So this mix of finances and fraternity, and a little bit of fear, won out over the adventure of moving away that I had always envisioned I’d take as close to high school graduation day as possible.
But our debate ran deeper than simply attachments to home or a dislike for locale. I did get that, I felt both. It was more about the way he seemed to be waiting to be fully happy. In my ever philosophical way, my argument against this waiting was that happiness, deep and true, could not be about place at all. My position wasn’t distinctly original by any means, it went a bit like this–if you can’t be happy here, you won’t be happy there. A gold standard.
And what I kept beating him over the head with was this–you can be happy here, and then, you’ll be even happier there.
Not that a change of scenery isn’t wonderful. Not that it isn’t sometimes just the thing. I am sometimes so indescribably happy here in my new home, so very happy in this place in time. But still, I remember. I know that with or without it, I have held my happiness close to me, tucked next to my beating heart, for such a long time, in all the places I’ve been. The truth is you own your happiness, your surroundings do not.
In the drear that can be January here, and then February, March, April, and sometimes May, the grey can really get to people. In the days of more inside than out, though we still always do get out, the children in the middle of my brood are at just the right ages, and have just the right personalities that tend towards feeling the blah of an uneventful, winter’s day at home, working away at nothing more than our studies, our chores, the reading by the fire, the endless board games, tea, and what they see as more than one too many soups and stews on the table. There is certainly a different flavor to this season, especially once the holidays end, that can start to taste “boring”.
But all of this, to me, is happiness. I am a homebody, an introvert. Give me quiet, sweet days with these little imps where we do not rush, we do not have to, and I am in love. But I get it, I remember. My daughter wants to see her friends all the time. She is not content with a day where “nothing” happens. And my middle son, whose skills and ambitions lie in things that are either too big of a project for such a day or out of his range or simply out of season for now like building go carts or tree forts or learning to hunt and going on survival hikes, he kind of just sits in here languishing while his older brother draws and draws and draws and I read and knit and write. He is not one for sitting, and even the woodshop which can keep him busy takes some initiative to go work in when it is cold outside.
But this feeling, this boredom, I still try to bring to my children the only true fact I know about it, as often as I can, with my own actions and words, that the only way out is through. For any human being, this is a handy skill to have in your pocket. To learn to love the mundane, the day to day of any season, the grey sky, the blah days, they will happen, it is unavoidable, and feeling good and being happy isn’t just a matter of riding the high waves, the summertime fun. I know that this was hard for me in my youth. So hard. But why wait to learn some of these lessons. I wish they could know the beauty of now, now. I know I hope my old friend has found this little gem somewhere on the roadside of his travels. The sooner the better, right?
And yet, as with anything there for the learning, I can’t pour it into them. They have to fill their own vessels of knowledge, as much as I do, and don’t, want to do it for them.
So, I pause.
Dead plants are as pretty as alive ones. There is beauty everywhere. I can only show them one example, and never a perfect one, and hope they can see it, too.