“Are you happy?”
I hate that question. It’s confusing. I don’t know what “happy” looks like, and so I’m never quite sure if I am or if I’m not. Does “happy” mean that I love everything about my life? That I live with no regrets? That I have more good days than bad days? That I feel worthy?
Even though I clearly don’t know the answer to the question, I seem to invite it into my life with ease. I saw my ex-wife a month ago, and during our conversation I told her that she seemed happy. She did. Sitting across from her, I felt a calmness surrounding her like a soft cloak. She seemed content and genuinely excited about her life. You know…happy.
And then she asked me, “And how about you? Are you happy?”
I must admit that I would have loved to have answered, “Absolutely. I feel as if I’m right where I’m supposed to be and all is well and I am totally and completely happy right here, right now. I am healed and whole.”
But I didn’t say that. What I said was, “I hate mowing the lawn.”
Mowing the lawn was always her job. Now I have to do it. I’m mowing my own lawn for the first time in the entire 40 years of my life, and now I know why she didn’t seem to enjoy doing it – it sucks. It’s hot and the grass makes me sneeze and I get sweaty and I have to pick up a lot of dog shit.
When I first started mowing the lawn, I felt terrible because I realized that I never offered to do it when she was around. I never took the initiative and learned how to mow the lawn so she didn’t have to do it. She had to do the work and I did nothing. It became more than a chore issue in my mind; it became a marker on the well-worn map of “Casey’s Guilt Trip;” one more reason why I was a shitty wife and she was better off without me in her life.
So I’m sitting there, pondering whether or not I’m happy, acutely aware that the longer I wait to answer, the more obvious it becomes that the answer is a resounding “no,” and I think what I wanted to say was this:
“Good question. I’m happy in some ways but not in other ways. I’m sitting across from the person I used to be married to, only we’re not married anymore, and that feels sad. I’m happy in my personal relationships, which feels bad because I believe that I don’t deserve to be loved, or to love anyone in return. And I just want to say, you know, that I’m sorry for hurting you, for not doing more, for not being the person that made your life better and made YOU happy, especially when it comes to mowing the lawn, ‘cause, man…that job SUCKS. I’m just sorry.”
It isn’t just my relationship with my ex that plagues me. It’s been several months of one challenge after another in most aspects of my life, which leaves little room for happiness. I’m meeting the challenges by simply diving in headfirst, as if they’re waves in the Atlantic Ocean, hoping that I’ll be able to swim through to the surface and have enough time to prepare myself for the next wave. Each one gets a little harder, though, a little stronger and tougher and I’m starting to get tired. I don’t want to swim so hard anymore. I just want to float on smooth, flat seas for a while.
So yesterday at work, when I leaned over to unplug my phone and I bumped my head on my desk, I gave in. I slumped down to the floor and tears filled my eyes, and I suddenly thought of my ex and realized…it’s loss. This year has been filled with loss, which feels like abandonment, even if I’m the one that left. I depended on certain people to define me and my place in the world, and now I realize, sitting there on my office floor, that I am alone. Unmoored and tired and alone. And I want to find a place of my own so I can rest and rebuild, without waves crashing over my head. I want to find ME and never abandon her again, so when people inevitably move in and out of my life, I have a true, authentic Self that can withstand rougher seas and remain steadfast.
The only way I can do that is to care for myself as lovingly and gently as possible, and to reach out and ask for help when I need it. I can reach out to a power greater than myself to carry me where I’m supposed to go, and trust that I have everything I need at any given moment. I can let go of the people who I believed were holding me up, and wish them well as I send them off with peace and love.
That feels like serenity, and I believe it’s possible for me. And that makes me happy.