Written by a dear friend of mine since...well since we were little, since high school and even throughout college. Please read. This post is so relevant now for those who feel like they're spending such a long time looking for their journey's before realizing they're already on them.
Thank you Angelica for your beautiful words and artwork ;)
I was a happy kid. There’s a picture of me as a wee one sitting on a log, swinging my Velcro shoes with snot streaming out my nose, munching M&M’s. I loved picking violets, cuddling my dad while he sipped his morning coffee, making snow angels, sleeping in the closet, drawing pictures, and writing poems. A full-of-delight, wide-eyed wisp of a kid.
I wasn’t much of a social butterfly. In fact, I never got past the frenetic-binge-eating-leaves stage of social metamorphosis. So when I got to high school, making my way through the halls to class felt like walking a gangplank. Anxiety came gunning for that sparkle in my eyes like a hillbilly hell bent on avenging a blood brother. I was scared somebody might notice me. I was terrified no one would ever notice me. I longed to stand out. I was desperate to fit in.
Then in senior year something else did its darndest to snuff out that childlike spark. It was called Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Three words which do not convey the agony of watching the strongest man I know on whom I had hung my entire world retching his chemotherapized guts out. I was strong and I was quiet. I had to be. I didn’t cry when anyone could see. But alone, in the dark and silence, I cried myself to sleep some nights, praying my Dad would not leave me. And thank God, he didn’t. He went into remission and has stayed there ever since!
With that fear behind me (or at least in the back of my mind), I went on to study Pre-Med biology with plans for a successful career saving lives in a cancer ward or refugee camp. (Pardon my saviour complex). My action plan was to keep my head down, mouth shut, work hard and get good grades. I succeeded. I wore an honours medal and cord thingies on graduation day. A blanket of fine mist hung overhead while the writer of Braveheart gave a stirring commencement address. It was a proud, epic day. And then I entered one of the unhappiest chapters of my life.
Most of my friends moved away and moved on. I bombed the Medical College Admission Test so badly that the foundations of the earth shook. Seriously, there was a 5.8 earthquake during my Physical Sciences section. With plans for further education on hold, I needed money to start paying off student loans. So I took the only job I was offered– receptionist at my alma mater. A scum sucker at the bottom of the institutional tank, I skulked around halls haunted by the ghosts of classmates past for two long years. Melodramatic, I know. But in the throes of depression everything is coloured with broad brushstrokes of grey. I felt left behind, abandoned, forgotten. I was paralyzed between fear of staying stuck and fear of change. It took the help of a counselor, pastor, life coach, and career counselor to get me out. I also read voraciously, scouring articles, books and blogs for scraps of hope. One paradigm-shifter for me was a quote in “Vocation Takes Patience” by Alissa Wilkinson on The Cardus Daily (Jan, 2012)…
I realized I was so busy trying to use my talents to help people that I had lost my happy heart somewhere along the way. It was time to win it back. So I started making more choices based on what makes me come alive and brings happiness. I went on a European tour with my mom. I turned down a Surgical Assisting program in favour of an Art Therapy program. I moved to a beautiful corner of Canada nestled in the mountains by a lake and have spent the last year healing, helping and art-making. I went back to England this summer. I visited old friends, made new ones and studied Children’s Illustration for a week at Cambridge, a dream come true. I still want to use my abilities to help people but I’ve made more room for heart and happiness and things like…
Standing with the sun warming my back and cold raindrops pricking my expectant face. And watching a rainbow being born…Make that a double rainbow.
Seeing a real live hedgehog for the first time. In a car full of newfound friends. On the way back from the ice cream parlour. In the English countryside.
Being brave enough to reach out to someone and strong enough to hold my head high if they don’t respond. But then, lo and behold…they do!
Being comfortable enough to go see a movie on my own and enjoying every solitary moment or inviting others and filling an entire cinema row with warm, wonderful friends.
Getting lost and found again in the forest wilds. And paddle-boarding into the wind and waves and sun whilst singing Pocahontas songs. These are good things.
That’s what I’ve come to know of happiness. But what I know of life is that, while the fleeting fuzzy feeling is delightful, happiness can’t be the point. If it were, a good chunk of life would be utterly pointless. I like what Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl had to say:
“Don’t aim at success–the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen…you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, Preface to 1984 edition).
Part of my postgraduate depression was a fixation on my own happiness. I was convinced for four years that hard work = grades= “life, liberty and…happiness” (forget the “pursuit of”, I wanted it NOW!). When things didn’t turn out that way, I concluded that I was miserable. I lost sight of the bigger picture, the sweeping story arc. I forgot that it isn’t an inalienable right of humans to be happy. Rather, it is the great privilege of being human to create story and find meaning.
People are not carnal beasts fulfilled by the gratification of hedonistic drives. Random, floating bits of happy do not satisfy. Which is why we try to piece them together into some coherent timeline with our incessant pics, posts, and tweets. We crave a greater narrative. Something that has room for the whole scope of human experience. Something that validates that change is scary. And people get cancer. Friends leave. Rejection stings. And yet… There are also double rainbows. Poignant books. Connection. Intimacy. Hedgehogs.
I see these seemingly random and contradictory experiences as an invitation to make meaning and write story. We have this incredible chance to sift through all this life stuff and find what makes us come alive. And then we have an obligation to ourselves and others to live out of the essence of our true selves. So what makes your eyes twinkle? What makes you believe in goodness and beauty again? What, when you talk about it, makes pride and passion swell in your chest? What feeds your soul and uplifts others at the same time? Yeah, do more of that stuff! Then happiness will simply be a side effect of a life well-lived rather than the defining factor by which we decide what is and isn’t a good life.
I have come to think that this ‘good life’ thing hangs out somewhere between Walt Disney (à la, “follow your heart and all your dreams will come true!”) and Marcus Aurelius (of the Stoic school who likened the good life to a tethered dog who plods along at a pace that minimizes the pull of his lead). It’s this in-between place where you invite happiness in and celebrate with a right royal rumpus when it comes and then hold onto a wider, greater vision of life and a kinder, gentler view of yourself when it goes away. I guess what I’m trying to say is…
Us happy people gotta stick together.
I depend heavily on my family and my friends whom I ask to send anything on happiness, or their motivation, how they find it all in the name of life and being able to live it. I am very grateful to them for their participation. If you’d like to do so please…drop me a line.~FindingFelicity
Please check out blood.ca to find a clinic and give.