everyone needs a happiness jar

This is our happiness jar. We bought it at 10,000 Villages. And it’s stuffed full of remnants from some of our best days over the past six years. 

Concert tickets, ballgame tickets, dated corks from dinners together and with friends, Euros from Italy, tickets to the Roman Coliseum, Pompeii and the Uffizi, and a stack of airline, bus and metro tickets. A scrap of paint from Shawshank Prison, a menu from that blues bar we stumbled into late one night in San Francisco, a business card from the Tibetan store in The Haight where an ancient, wrinkled woman told us we needed to find forgiveness. Bracelets from that day at the Holocaust Museum with the kids, Canadian flag stickers from the Women’s March on Washington, and parking stubs from various beach days, art galleries and plays, including every one Charlene has been in. (Well, five tickets from Rocky Horror for sure.) And a bunch of sticks, stones and leaves from various walks that undoubtedly held deep discussions and beautiful sights.

That covers some of what’s in there. 

I guess the point is that we’ve saved up a lot of happiness from the past six years. We’ve collected moments. Intentionally preserved them. At times, sifted through them with gratitude for everything they were to us. Laughed about them & allowed them to bring joy back to us. We gradually piled one on top of another and made a great life together. And, we literally hoarded happiness and kept it for times when we needed a bright spot. 

But for so long, I know a small part of me clung to those moments and mementos because I was afraid they wouldn’t keep coming. As hard as it is to admit, on some level I didn’t feel I actually deserved them. While I enjoyed all of those moments, at the same time I was drowning in guilt mixed up with an unhealthy dose of self-loathing. 

I couldn’t forgive myself. I denied that was true though. But it was most definitely true. Somehow, I was still in the closet, just a different one.

A week ago tonight, someone I hold close to my heart invited me to dinner and the course of our discussion came to them wanting me to know with certainty that they forgive me. That they believe in their heart that they’ve become a bigger and better person because of me and all that’s happened. I believe so much in the bigness of people. I believed, always, that this individual would find forgiveness for me simply because that’s who they are. And I also believed, with my whole heart, that I would be okay if they didn’t. Or if I never actually heard those words from them. 

I guess it’s true that you lie best when you lie to yourself. And so I was unprepared for the shock wave of emotion hearing those words, and the deep discussion that followed, unleashed in me as I walked away from a hug in the parking lot. I was unprepared for the instant recognition of the weight of the guilt I was still carrying – and the even more immediate and full impact of its release. Those words broke me open and forgiveness for myself poured in right behind them. It was an unexpected and magical gift of the kind that I would guess doesn’t happen very often in the middle of New Hamburg.

All of us have taken different roads to get here but I see now that it’s been key just to let time pass. Sure, you need to cry and wallow and lament and therapy and scratch your way back to the surface, too – but time is like a laxative, man. It softens things. 

And then one day, sitting on a bench in the sun, you close your eyes, put your head back and realize that you are okay. That you can finally forgive yourself. That your happiness jar overflows. Because you’ve worked hard. And because no joyous life can exist without one marred by sometimes what amounts to nothing more than your own desperate, self-inflicted, strife. 

So, this is most of what came to me at 5:30 this morning when I woke out of a dead sleep with a burning desire to go downstairs and look through the contents of the happiness jar.

You never know when a story will come to you. Or how. (I tend to believe in Liz Gilbert’s magical thinking on this. Like, magical in the Hogwarts sense. A story for another day.) But sometimes you find yourself writing a story you never imagined needing to write. And sometimes it’s a story you’ve needed to write with such intensity so as to save yourself. It is absolutely Divine – with a capital D.

I am a meaning-maker. (Thank you for pointing this out to me, Lori Hoffman). A maker of meaning – not for you – mostly, for me. Writing is my process for processing. My lifeboat. My church. And my salvation. I often feel compelled to write short pieces of the full story – because that’s how I’m making sense of it… in small pieces. I share them with you because your reflections back to me are also how I make sense of it. And because people tell us all the time that it helps to hear the story and to know that they’re not alone in whichever of life’s closets they may find themselves in. I hope that is true.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that there are so many tiny revolutions in a life. A million ways we have to circle around ourselves to grow and change and be okay. Writing is mostly how I do it. And I appreciate beyond words that you stick with me. This is more long-winded than usual, I know. 

I don’t think that I’ll ever really be able to make sense of everything that’s happened these last six years. And anyway, I don’t really think that’s necessary or supposed to happen anymore. But one thing I do know is that with time and mindfulness, understanding, heart – and most of all forgiveness – I’ve been able to make sense of myself.

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