A member of my family was just in the hospital for an out-of-the-blue medical emergency. For a couple days things were dicey and the whole lot of us was concerned. It’s hard to worry about your career, love life or even your soul when a person who used to change your diapers and sneak you Twinkies when your mom wouldn’t let you eat them, is lying unconscious in a hospital.
Lately, I keep coming across articles and essays, surveys and polls, how-to books and talk shows about how to be happy. I even wrote about it last week. Supposedly, America is one enormous pool of misery and the majority of us are swimming in it.
My kin got through the emergency and safely made it home. When I heard, I raised a glass to him and thanked the universe, God, Oprah, anyone who would listen. And then I realized what all those happiness polls get wrong. They ask about work, political progress, structural hierarchies both professionally and personally. What they should be asking is, ‘how are your relationships?’ ‘How are you and your peeps doin’?’ For most Americans, the answer would probably be, ‘pretty crappy.’
Tell me I got six weeks to live and I promise you I wouldn’t spend those last days in an office, a new car or a shoe store. I wouldn’t be poring over stock prices or fawning over the gradual rise of my salary over the course of my career. Though politics is crucial and entertainment is fun, I don’t think I’d regret missing out on seeing whether women get equal pay or if Jennifer Aniston ever finds a soul mate.
On my death bed, I’d probably recall the first time I saw Grease and realized the world was bigger than my Ohio hometown (yes, Grease!) I’d think about seeing Michelangelo’s David in person. And there’s this pizza I had in Chicago I know I’d be thinking about when I take that last walk through the tunnel toward the light.
But what I’d really remember is my grandmother’s laugh, the birth of my first baby sister, special moments while babysitting my second. I’d think of watching Mickey Rourke movies with my best friend in high school and meeting my first real love in college. Christmases, weddings, even office parties. And vacations! Prague with Jackie, Istanbul with Leah. I’d thank Andrew for running across Madrid to comfort me during low expat moments, Eric and Carl for talking me down from heartbreak during calls in the middle of the night, Trina and Chris for putting up with my drama. Thank Dan and Stepha for just being Dan and Stepha.
Women, especially, always receive a roll of the eyes when they worry about relationships and make them central to their lives. But relating ain’t just chick stuff. Yeah, by the end, I hope I’ll have had a beautiful house with a garden. A kickass literary career. Piles of ticket stubs from travels around the world. But I know what it’s truly all about. People make the world go ’round. People are happiness. Sure, people can royally suck sometimes, too, but I suppose that’s the nature of the beast.
So, I guess this means we really should be playing Monopoly with our kids and reading them Dr. Seuss every night. After we get married, we have to make sure not to lose contact with all the other people who meant something to us before the big day. We gotta get along with our crazy relatives and work shit out with our parents. And finding someone we can love deeply then work hard to keep loving them once we do? Yeah, we need to make that happen.
I mean, all this other stuff is fab, y’know, the job, material success, art, social change. But it all means jack squat if working so hard at it keeps us away from each other.
I can feel all the cynics out there gagging over this giant schmaltz fest of a blog post. I can see them flipping me the bird and suggesting I go write greeting cards. I could be a miserable American and tell them to bite me. But I could also say, go hug your mom.
And be happy.
**Reprinted from Laura K. Warrell's blog, Tart and Soul, at www.TartandSoul.com