Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Happiness is a strange notion
We all tend to think of happiness as a permanent state of being, you know? Of course it is not. I don't know about you, but I change emotions about 300 times a day. Happiness is transient because life is complicated.
Take last week for example. We left Central Florida early on Thursday, June 17th to drive to Bloomington, Indiana for a family wedding. I was happy and excited as we started off on a road trip that would take us through parts of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. It was the first time T had been out of Central Florida since we moved down here from Upstate New York in March 2014.
We were feeling adventurous and got off the highway twice in search of Mom and Pop eating places along the way. This is something we never would have done in our youth. We always assumed travelling hippies would get their asses kicked in certain parts of the Deep South.
We stopped at a cafeteria-style local restaurant in Georgia, and an old-fashioned soda fountain and deli in Tennessee. The food was great. I was ecstatic over our good fortune in finding authentic food with local flavor. The quaint, small town Southern hospitality was both charming and welcoming. That certainly made me happy.
I was delighted to experience the mountains of Northern Georgia and Southern Tennessee. Who knew there was such wild beauty here? I was happy to see mountains and hills covered with trees. There are not any hills or mountains in Central Florida, but even if there were I am quite sure they would be covered with housing subdivisions. However, the sight of all that well-treed beauty also made me a little melancholy, homesick for NYS.
On Friday we drove up through beautiful Southern Indiana and saw wild daylilies blooming alongside the road. The fields were filled with corn, and expansive hedgerows containing large shade trees separated the cornfields. Deciduous trees I could actually identify were everywhere. At that point I was alternating between happy and sad every 5 seconds or so.
We ran into family members before we even entered the hotel lobby. I have a large, crazy extended family and about 2/3 of them would be at this wedding. Seeing so many people I love, and feeling that they loved me back, was like a shot of adrenaline. It made me very happy. I was grounded by love. I knew no fear, no trepidation. I owned that place in that time. I forgot I could do that, feel confident and safe. I guess I have been a stranger too long.
At the hotel bar, T picked up the local paper to read while I happily socialized my heart out. He saw the news. Later he told me about the Charleston shootings. In the midst of my great happiness and sense of belonging I immediately began to wonder if life was worth living. To live in a world where a subhuman moron could randomly kill innocent people in a *&%#^! Church, well it was just too much, the horror of it all. I was reminded of all the hateful, harmful isms and social phobias that exist in this world. Reality was rearing its ugly, pointed little head. Suddenly the world seemed strange and threatening. I was so very far from happy at that moment.
The wedding activities provided a respite from anxiety. My niece and her fiancé honored me by asking me to give a reading at the marriage ceremony. They chose for me a lovely poem by John Kavanaugh called To Love is Not to Possess. I am happy to report that I did not embarrass myself in the reading! There was food, music, dancing, and a lot of alcohol flowing. I found ways to escape the abyss. I may have even sung (loudly) Piece of My Heart with my sister, ERB, towards the end of the night... Photographs now exist that will surely haunt me well into my dotage, but I do not really care. It was a great family wedding, a fun escape, and for that one night I was truly happy.
The next day we dragged our sorry butts out of the hotel, away from the bosom of our family and back into the cold, cruel world. Actually, it is a hot, cruel world we were returning to. We started the long journey home. Driving through the South no longer seemed the least bit charming. We drove by more than one Confederate Flag. I no longer felt welcome stopping for lunch in small Southern towns. I couldn’t help it. It was a visceral reaction to that hateful symbol. Instead, we ate at fast food joints just off the highway. The food was bad but I knew what to expect. I was definitely not happy.
I am not sure why some otherwise decent people do not understand how wrong that flag is. I know many Southerners claim that flag represents their heritage and pride in being Southern. However, the Southern culture and heritage I most admired in my paternal grandparents is, in fact, entirely negated by what the Confederate flag represents.
To the rest of the country and the outside world it does not represent gracious hospitality, good manners, heartfelt religiosity or any of those arguably good stereotypes one might hold about the South. That wretched flag is viewed by the world as a symbol of slavery and oppression. Seriously? It does not get much worse than that. When dealing with symbols you have to surrender to the reality of what the majority perceives it to mean instead of what you want it to be.
There is also talk of that flag standing as a symbol for "States Rights." Should individual states be able to determine their own destiny as if they were sovereign nations? Well, you know as well as I do that if that idea had been implemented by our Founding Fathers the Civil War would never have been fought. Instead, there would probably still be States with slavery, States where gay people would be thrown in jail for sodomy, and States where women and people of color never got the right to vote. Plus, the USA would not be a strong nation, and there is no way some of the states would have allowed our weakened country to step into WWII and rescue Europe from Hitler and Mussolini. I cringe to think what the world would be like today if we were just the States of America instead of the United States.
We arrived back in Central Florida feeling pretty low. But then the Supreme Court stepped up in all its glory and reminded the world that we are a country that believes in equal rights for all and, well, I am feeling pretty darn happy about that right now. I guess I better savor the moment because for every action there is a reaction, and happiness is both relative and fleeting.