A few weeks ago, Christmas shopping began. The lady at the check-out was beside herself, amazed. “Oh lawd,” she said, “you know, you are right. Too many people forget the meanin’ of Christmas, shopping and shopping so late. Mm!” She mooned over a fancy diffuser, before carefully examining the nutritional contents of the quince preserves in her left hand. Just like in the movies. The growing line grew restless behind us. One woman pushed her cart an inch from my elbow, the lines between her eyes creasing furiously. But the cashier hummed dreamily, commenting on nearly every item she scanned. It was kind of maddening. Heart-warming. Embarrassing. Wonderful.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, the whole moment. About the cashier, especially. She seemed happy. I like to think I know happiness. I like to think I can conjure its meaning and feeling on a regular basis. But I’ve recently discovered a flaw in myself, that uproots my sense of happiness faster than it grows.
I will tell you what it is. But first, a few pictures for you.
This week, following an inkling, I grabbed one of two ornamental pumpkins from outside the front door. A series of events occurred. All experiments.
I vaguely remember one of my college roommates doing this. She was nice. Studying to be a teacher, I think? My friends and I never saw her, except for one evening when she stayed home to knife the albino pumpkin, sitting on our counter. I remember her washing and straining the seeds.
But I was on my own from here. I kept it simple. Salt and pepper, and thyme, are not usually wrong.
Pink peppercorns! They are light and airy, potpourri-like, hardly real. Crushed, they smell sweet and spicy all at once. Like magic. Like valentines.
They were also cute, sprinkled on the slices of pumpkins I eventually roasted.
Now, about what I was saying, about happiness…
This week, we elected a president. Most of us did, anyway. He is not for everyone, I see. Still, regardless of our allegiances, I find that it has been difficult to overcome the heavy-heartedness that is so prevalent these days, in almost everyone I meet. But I will speak for my own darkness.
I’ve noticed, in recent days, months, and years, I’ve allowed my inner critic to slowly overcome me. Did this begin in school, in college? When I was encouraged to articulate my opinions, to persuade everyone that my ideas were the most correct? Who knows. Who knows. What has happened is that a day doesn’t go by without me expressing at least one negative idea. These negative ideas, once solely directed at literary figures, have now become a part of my every day conversation, about the weather, the news, and even about other people, even ones that I know, that I love. As it turns out, regardless of whether I am right or wrong, I never feel satisfied with the answers. I never feel edified, finding the right word to highlight my criticisms. It is a hollow feeling to discern wrong in something.
This is not to say that we should never find wrong in anything. Having a working bullshit radar is essential! I’m referring to a meanness I’ve discovered in myself, that is so similar in taste and sound to everyday culture, it may be imperceptible. I’m referring to the discovery that, so often, the motivation behind my “observations” is the simple desire to be right all the time, to know everything. Let me be the first to disillusion you — I do not know everything. And if I’ve ever given you this impression, I am very sorry! I can’t think of anything that reflects a greater lack of humility.
This week, we have chosen a president, and still the “open conversations,” the extended olive branches, have only served to further whack at each other, to slyly provide a reflection of an opponent’s deep wrongness. Who hasn’t seen this on facebook – complete strangers serving one another articles to express their convictions, or, when that doesn’t work, resorting to shameless name-calling? Do these people sleep better at night, knowing they fought for their rightness? Or does the insidious memory of a negative comment, the failure to dissuade someone of their own deeply rooted beliefs, haunt their dreams? I wonder. My guess is that being right here serves no greater purpose, but to cling to one’s inner voice more furiously. My guess is that we’re really no different, about wanting to be right.
To be honest, I’ve discovered all these things because my heart cannot take it anymore. I am unhappy! I am unhappy in this environment we’ve created for ourselves. Politics are not silly, but they should not be an open invitation to lambast your neighbor. How uncivil. Does your head not hurt like mine does, trying to accommodate the sting of all the well-composed and contradictory opinions? For myself, I’ve learned I am not happy being hyper-critical. I do not sleep well at night, counting truths. Is a happy heart a smug heart? I don’t think so either.
It is daunting to think I have much to change in myself, to consider how much I must extract from my every day conversation. I’ve become gossipy. Gross! But the work will be worth it – to smile with sincerity, on a regular basis. It will be worth it when in the company of my favorite, 1-2-year-old friends, who are like bloodhounds about dark hearts. It will be worth it, when celebrating all the warmth, the good cheer, and true meaning of Christmas.
What do I say here, now? Namaste?