A good friend of mine who lives on the Wind River Indian Reservation, doesn’t like my blog. He says it’s sad. This is from an Arapaho man who grieves over the new Wyoming hunting season on wolves, who carries his respect and love for them in his very name, who speaks with passion and frustration over the short life span of the people in his challenged nation. He doesn’t want my blog to make him sad. I guess he gets enough of that emotion elsewhere in his life.
Happiness and happy endings are such flighty things. We think we have a clear eye on them, only to discover they can slip away the moment we claim ownership of them. Happy anything is such a personal construct, not to mention downright mysterious at times.
My son, Tristan, spent the last three years of his six-year life in a wheelchair, experiencing excruciating pain from a systemic disease. Yet when he completed what would be his final year of school, he came home wearing a badge declaring him the winner of the “Happiest Student” award. There was no doubt in my mind as to how much he deserved the honor.
When I was in the seventh grade, I rounded a hallway corner one day and ran into a large girl who had made it clear for a very long time that she didn’t like me. On that particular day, she pushed me up against the wall and stared into my eyes.
“I just want you to know why I’ve always hated you,” she said. I said nothing. “I’ve hated you for years, because you walk around looking so happy all the time.” I didn’t really know what she meant by the strange confession, but there was something about it that made me feel good. And sad.
During the most debilitating and frightening days of cancer treatment, nothing made me grumpier than running into people who told me to be positive, be grateful. Don’t worry, be happy. Some said my life depended on it — which really pissed me off.
Actually, throughout some of the darkest times in my life, I’ve been keenly aware of my capacity for joy. In fact, I’ve counted on it. But because of that impressive collection of dark times, I generally see sweetness through a veil — almost as if the very path to a happy ending requires shadowed passage.
I don’t like the idea of making anyone sad. But I do like the idea of sharing an uncertain expedition, pointing out the pinpricks of light I spy along the way. Often, it’s when I’m crawling through dimness that I stumble across the edge of happy — in a quiet, subtle, sometimes slightly sad way.
For example, in deciding where to place my bed when I first moved back to North Park, I recognized the bedroom was designed with a long wall that, if the bed were set there, offered a beautiful view out toward the Never Summer mountains. Unfortunately, there’s the long stretch of junkyard to gaze at between the windows and those mountains. Especially in the early days of trying to imagine this as my new home, I couldn’t bear to start each morning looking at rusted machines, unusable tires and mountains of discarded cans, buckets and twisted fencing. So, ignoring a vague understanding that the window above my head would be cold and would go against what little I knew about how to properly Feng Shue a bedroom, I pushed the used queen-sized mattress, boxspring and folding metal frame that had been given to me, up against the windows. After securing the storm windows with added screws to keep them from falling on my head, I threw an old sheet up over the curtain rod and settled in.
Two and a half years later, a couple of pairs of cream colored panel drapes still in their packages, sit on my nightstand waiting to be ironed and hung. But a few mornings ago, just before my 4:00 alarm went off and long before the sun began to climb up over the peaks behind my head, it was the old sheet I grabbed in my hands while still snuggled down into my pile of pillows. I tipped my head back and simultaneously pulled the sheet forward. There, as I looked straight up into the pre-dawn blackness, was North Park’s display of stars so bright and so vast, for at least a moment or two it wasn’t possible to be aware of anything else. Except perhaps the round robin of coyote song between packs to the north, west and south of where I lay, no longer needing an alarm to start my day.
I can’t help but hope that the wolf packs of my Arapaho friend’s backyard and the coyote packs of my own backyard will find a way to sing us both a little closer to a real and eternal happy ending. One that doesn’t feel too sad along the way.