Happiness. It’s a seemingly simple emotion yet there has never been a time in my life
when it has felt so unattainable and foreign. I am making my way through a time of tremendous
change, transition, loss and recovery. I suspect that how I survive the coming months and establish
my own happiness will, in many ways, define who I am and who I become.
One way I’ve attempted to better understand myself and achieve that ever-elusive state
of happiness is through my family. Last summer this meant taking a road trip to Dubuque, Iowa
with my mom, uncle, and cousin, stopping in the barely-there town of Stuttgart, Kansas along
the way. I was secretly on a mission to better understand my almost mythic grandma Frieda,
who had died when I was very young, by getting to know her surviving siblings. As one might
guess, I didn’t find the missing piece by conversing with her sisters, exploring old
family photo albums, and a touring the family house on Clarke Drive. I did find a sense of
comfort and friendship with these distant relatives, and came to the realization that nurturing
relations in a strong family network is part of what happiness means for me.
It was difficult for me to continue cultivating happiness during a stressful return to Smith
and, later, in the wake of family tragedy. In early December I got a call from home, which
is always a sign that something terrible has happened. My favorite grandfather, Frieda’s
partner in life, had died. My struggle for achieving happiness was tested. The complex emotions
of sadness and relief emerged, along with the child-like search for simple understanding of
a topic so taboo and avoided as death. Questions emerged: Who am I in the wake of loss? How
can I be a supportive daughter, sister, niece, cousin and encourage happiness to emerge for
others and myself in spite of grief?
Weeks later, the unfathomable happened. My aunt Patti died suddenly. Now, calling her my aunt
seems like the only natural way to refer to her. It’s not a title she earned because
of blood relations but rather friendship, and one I regret not calling her directly. Guilt
and anger joined sadness and emptiness in a destructive, emotional cocktail. So now, more than
ever, while I want to fully acknowledge my losses, I find myself actively seeking happiness.
The experience of loss, as I am quickly learning, is a painful part of life. Loss is unavoidable.
Life, as I can see so far, is also sprinkled with profound joys as well. When faced with the
reality and brevity of life the question that begs to be asked is how can I be happy in the
precious amount of time I do have? If anything, my losses have inspired me to keep cultivating
a more consistent state of happiness. I find that it means starting small and focusing on short,
simple moments of pleasure and wholeness first. Like the lunchtime spent with my family on
a playground in humid Stuttgart, laughing out of delight and terror on a teeter-totter with
no handles. Or watching the sunset over lake Eerie my feet confidently planted in coarse sand,
in the company of kind, new friends. Happiness buds from these little moments, but needs to
be nurtured if it’s to grow into a state of mind or a practice for life. I am finding
that happiness is not something I will easily stumble upon, but a project I look forward to
intentionally piecing together over a lifetime. Who knows, maybe happiness will peek out from
behind a corner and surprise me, too. For now, I will focus on telling my loved ones how much
I care, and often. I will cherish brief moments of pure joy and beauty, from a comforting conversation
with a friend over coffee to the rhythmic snores of my English Mastiff during a quiet evening
How I will connect these moments of happiness into the day-to-day bustle of responsibilities,
commitments and worries remains unsolved. I have never been described as happy-go-lucky or
as someone who, more often than not, sees the glass half full. But, as worn-down as I feel,
I am determined to be resilient and dedicated to taking my happiness into my own hands for
once. After I’ve secured my arsenal of joy, I hope to take it with me into the challenging,
frightening world post-Smith. Happiness is a garden that is to be worked in and nurtured if
it’s to be enjoyed. And I look forward to building mine up, creating the foundation for
the rest of my life.
Space. Something we don’t get a lot of at a 99% on-campus residential small liberal
arts all-women’s college. Space is something that becomes more and less valuable over
time. Sometimes we are craving it intensely and sometimes we just “don’t want
to be alone”. Time. We all have the same equal amount of it. 24 hours. Most of us spend
the majority of that doing the things on our to-do list and seeing the people we have to see
because it will further our prospects. Time is money, they say. But sometimes, time is miserable.
Motivation. Smithies are the most motivated group of women I’ve ever met. If you could
bottle our energy and sell it, I think it would outsell 5 Hour Energy in less than a week.
Love. We love girls. We love boys. We love girls who are becoming boys. Are they girls becoming
boys? Or are they already boys? We love confusion because confusion comes before we begin to
find out what we believe in. We love people who don’t understand girls and don’t
understand loving girls. We love people who don’t love us. Can we find love?
Sex. Some use it as an expression of love. Some use it to dull the pain. Some do it because
they’re bored. Some find it painful to think about. Some don’t do it at all.
Food. One of the mainstays keeping us alive. Sometimes you will hear Smithies grumbling louder
than their stomachs do during finals. Sometimes you will hear the sound of buttons popping
off all over campus. Julia Child’s Day.
Success. Something we define for ourselves. Something others define for us. Something we don’t
define at all. Something completely relative.
Me. What am I made of? A deep and painful desire to reconnect with my parents. Fear — that
I can never truly do that because I’ve made myself so completely different than what
they expected of me. Hope — that they will come to love and respect the new person I
am.. the person they had no part in creating. Love — The love and forgiveness I am finding
I have for the people around me, the people who hurt me, the people I have hurt and most of
all for myself. Faith — the audacity to believe in an Almighty who wouldn’t have
created me if he didn’t love me for who I am. All of me. Courage — the guts to
walk into church alongside my classmates, friends and family members knowing that our beliefs
are not the same but not feeling guilty for being there and expressing my faith alongside theirs.
The me I would like to be. I had the courage when I told her I liked her. Romantically and
emotionally. I had the courage when I called my grandmother and said, “Grandma, I have
another crush on a girl. I think I am going to ask her out or something…” I had the
courage to listen when she told me She’d rather talk about anything else. I had the courage
to continue taking a class that I feel like an alien in. I had the courage to let other people
shine when I know I could bring them down a notch. I had the courage to pass on information
to people that can help them with no expectation that they will ever have the compunction to
do the same for me. I’ve had the motivation to go home and face death. I’ve had
the motivation to keep coming back to school and continuing to try at a life I know deep down
I want but I am not sure I can ever accomplish with grace.
Grace. I’ve been given the grace at a chance to be open. I’ve been given the grace
to talk. I’ve been given grace to exist in myself and accept the parts of myself that
Future. I’ve been given the ability to wonder what the future holds while being okay
in the moment. I’ve been given a glimpse into the future of others and hoped the best
Brevity. I’ve been handed the card of patience and I know that I may die tomorrow or
in a second. I value every keystroke, every breath, and every fight.
Mobility. I am grateful for every step I can and every ache I endure. I breath with the realization
does not come easily for others and what comes easily for others may be impossible for me.
Whole. I am whole. I don’t care if I have a hole that others tell me I should look about
to fill. I don’t need to be topped off like a bottle of wine. I am the glass half-full.
Half-full is full enough for me.