When I started really thinking about happiness, I remembered that so much of what makes us really happy — family, friends, careers, faith — is also fraught with hurt, loss, pain and disappointment. The people we love bring us the greatest joys, and the potential for the greatest hurts.
And buddy, that really blows. In my life, when I’ve looked at the big picture, it put things in perspective … but it doesn’t always make me happy. It might explain why someone who loves me also hurts me, but it begins an almost clinical process (probably needed) of obscuring the pain … and the joy. It turns snapshots of bliss and sorrow into a movie.
Sometimes, I’d prefer the snapshots … which is why I keep a lot of unexplainable (other than to me) stuff around. Even as I listen to Miles and watch my glass ease its way to emptiness, I can turn to my right and see a wall of photos. One of the them is one of the few pictures of my grandfather, Melvin, and Ben (my son). Ampa is bent over hugging Ben. Another is a picture taken while I was a member of East Lake UMC. It’s a picture of all the kids in the church — the Archilbalds, the Chambers, Emma and few others. It’s pure kid happiness. And reminds me of great times there with great friends.
Of course, it’s not just pictures, either. It’s little things that remind me of happy times. Mementos I keep around for who knows why, but seeing them reminds me of someone or something that makes me happy. It would literally be impossible to give a full list, but I’d challenge you: go into any room in your house, look at the items there and you’ll see one of the mini-sliders of happiness waiting to be found.
Here are just a few I found today:
- In my office, in the corner, is a now fading paper-mâché globe. It has all the continents on it and is painted blue. My oldest daughter made it for me years ago, in elementary school, and I’ve kept it for nearly ten years. People who’ve never been to my office always ask about it. My oldest is hardly a baby (except in my eyes). She’s about to graduate now, but I remember days in the past when she’d come to my office (it was a treat) and played with the stuff I’d collected in my “fun drawer.”
- In my desk drawer at work is a now-kind-of dirty plastic baby. I found that little sucker almost exactly eight years ago in a Mardi Gras King Cake. I’m not sure what to say about the agency that felt compelled to send it to us then; but I should be sending them a child support bill, because lo and behold, nine months after I found that little boy in my piece of cake, I welcomed my son into the world.
- When I was in high school, my parents bought me a real trumpet. For years, I’ve kept it, even when I haven’t played it. My Dad is the one who really ensured that I’d get it, and in his heart of hearts, he wanted to hear me play it more (particularly in church). I remember when I went to graduate school at Alabama that this horn was likely the only thing standing between me and cracking up. It’s been a lifeline to me so many times … and even tonight, as I opened the case, oiled the valves and played for the first time in ages … it was like it spoke to me, saying, “Hey friend, it’s good to see you; you don’t know what you’ve missed.”
- I’ve been friends with Tom Woods since I first met him in college. I was friends with him when his dad taught me Freshman English, and Tom was trying to understand why I had a fixation with Jody Whatley. Tom is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. Today, he’s Father Tom. In previous lives, he taught in Ecuador, traveled to Poland, and wrote his name on his chest in magic marker as he traveled across Columbia to see the Pope. One day, he gave me this tiny wooden … thing … it’s just a painted piece of wood from Ecuador. But it’s something he gave me. It reminds of this great friend I have; we certainly see the world in different ways, have different ideas of faith and belief … but he is and will always be, my friend.
- In the back of the cabinet where I keep my liquor, I have at least one empty bottle. It’s a now-empty bottle of Swing. I only have one friend who is both a fan of Swing and willing to purchase it for me … Sean Kelley. He and his wife Patti have been friends since I moved to McCalla. That bottle, and I can’t actually remember exactly, was either a gift for my 40th birthday or some other celebration I had. I keep it not because I need a cool bottle, but because it reminds me what great friends they are, how they’ve been there for me and my children so many times and how they’ve made my life more bearable and better for knowing them.
- In my closet, I have approximately 1,209 t-shirts, some dating from the hair-shirt era. One that I have kept over the years is one my ex-wife gave me nearly 20 years ago now. When I see it, I remember our college days … drinking 190 in my apartment in Tuscaloosa and serenading her outside her dorm. There’s nothing remarkable about the shirt; it came from Banana Republic … before they were cool, and moved from the spot in the Galleria with the Jeep coming through the window. It’s frayed around the collar and the sleeves. There are yellow paint splotches on it. I’d never wear it in public, but someone else will need to throw it out.
- With each of my kids, I’ve saved something that symbolized their infancy to me. With Emma, it was a multi-colored dress that she picked out herself. With Ben, it was some of the toys and stuffed animals that he latched on to … or the Mardi Gras beads that he loved playing with as a tot. With Betsy, I’m saving this … thing … it’s not her favorite by any stretch. But it’s the first thing bought for her specifically.
- Last Christmas, I received one of the coolest gifts that anyone has ever given me — a set of Batman cufflinks. Heidi Rowe had seen me plenty of times with cufflinks. But she did something no one else had; she decided to buy a pair for me. She talked with Emma, behind my back, to see what I’d like the most — Batman or Superman? They weren’t easy to find or easy to get. It’s kind of symbolic, to me, of what type of person she is — creative, bold, persevering … and thoughtful. Maybe she knew it or Emma did, but I like Batman. He’s human. He struggles. He’s smart, but vulnerable. He’s a bit of a tortured soul … he could be a writer.
I could go on and in full disclosure, I probably should …
But these are just a few things that remind me of when I was happiest and what makes me happiest. It’s not the thing itself, but just a symbol, a remembrance that is meaningful probably only (or mostly) to me. Call them happy distractions, if you will. I call them happy testaments to the best in us … our desire to give of ourselves, our faith in hope and the future, friendship, love and family.
Like a photo of something beautiful, I can linger. I can take this goodness and joy in at my own pace and not be forced to enjoy it at the speed of life.
I can enjoy it at the speed of happiness.