There's a book called How to Achieve True Greatness written by an Italian, Baldesar Castiglione, during the Renaissance period. His story includes information about a house he calls "the very inn of happiness."
I love that phrase. An inn is a place where you rent space, a piece of room for a short time. The stay is never permanent. Our lives change, and we take our pattern of contentment with us wherever we roam.
In his book Stumbling On Happiness, Harvard University psychology professor Daniel Gilbert writes about the science of happiness, and reports that it's the human frontal lobe that helps cause emotional misery in this society. That our brain gear makes us think too much about the future. How we spend so much time imagining how things are going to turn out...good or bad...that we miss what's going on right now.
Happiness can be chemistry, but I think most of the time, it just kinda shows up. And it is never who, what, when or where we expect, and it's usually not the big things that cause us to feel real joy. The small, everyday occurrences are what meld this life plot together.
Case in point: my three-year-old nephew Peter, after a few years of silence and testing and preschool, is talking. I walked into my sister's home after being out of town for a couple of weeks to hear from the little lad's lips, "Hi Mare Mare."
Go, Pete! You're a man of words! Welcome to the chatterbox Irish clan.
Now he's a total blabbermouth. My sister, exhausted from the noise, looked at me and said, "I've been waiting for this for so long, I can't ask him to be quiet."
Of course not.
The American painter Arthur Dove wrote:
"We have not yet made shoes that fit like sand
Nor clothes that fit like water
Nor thoughts that fit like air,
There is much to be done--
Works of nature are abstract,
They do not lean on other things for meaning."
I suppose it all comes down to those unique seconds of joy we experience. From approaching life with affability, of being awake enough to notice, for there is no control ever, anywhere. And to accept that this is the way it is. There's a Swedish saying, "The things I hate to do, I do fast. The things I like to do, I do slow."
From the time we are young, women are told that "your wedding day is the happiest day of your life." Oh yeah? Uh uh. I no longer understand weddings, having participated in one of my own, as I feel a relationship so personal doesn't have to be put on public display in such a structured ceremony.
The day I remember, long ago, with Ken, was a single moment, many years before the day we got married.
We lived on Capitol Hill, in an absolute wreck of a rowhouse, that, at the time, was all we could afford. This home sported a back porch that had a rickety set of stairs affectionately called The Steps of Doom. You had to know exactly how to make your slow descent or ascent on these stairs, or you left yourself open to the possibility of crashing to the concrete in a sickening thud of protoplasm.
I drove an old bright yellow Beetle then, and had just returned from a road trip to Boston to visit my friend K. I parked in the driveway behind the house. When I looked out through the dirty windshield, I saw the back porch door open. Ken, looking every bit like as he always did, a Seattle Ernest Hemingway, rushed out the back door and made his way as hurriedly as he could down The Steps of Doom, dogs Casey and Shaman following behind. Ken made it safely to solid ground, and walked towards me, smiling. That's when I knew this thing was real, and that it doesn't come along very often.
I had been missed.
And so had he.