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Happiness in the Present

snorkling
This picture is hanging on the wall across from me. I had Howard print it out and we framed it. It catches one brilliant, joyful moment. Not pictured is the fact that I had to strong arm my son into going on the excursion where this picture happened. Also not pictured is the emotional meltdown he had later that evening, nor the multi-child meltdown of the night before the excursion. This wonderful moment was surrounded by hard things. It was inextricably entwined with them. Part of the reason that moment shines so brightly for me, and for my son, was because it came in the middle of so much stress.

Yesterday evening I went and saw the movie Arrival. It was beautiful, brilliantly written, and deeply thoughtful. As the credits rolled, I continued sitting in my seat, not quite ready to leave the experience. When I did begin gathering to stand up, the woman next to me, who had also been quietly sitting, asked “What do you think it means?” I hardly knew what to say, though I fumbled through some words about not letting future or past sadness steal joy from the moment we’re in. At home I asked Howard the same question and he came up with a completely different answer than I had. His answer reflected what he’d been thinking about when he entered the theater. I’d been thinking different things and I found different meanings in the film. There are far more connections between this movie and my current train of thought, but to say more might spoil the experience for others. The film is worth seeing.

The snorkeling photo was a comfort to me this past week when everything felt doomed and hopeless. I would look at that photo and realize that no matter what happens in the future, nothing can take that moment away from me. It is safe, encapsulated in the unchangeable past. Realizing that showed me how to continue forward. Each happy thing in the present is safe from future events. Future darkness can only steal present joy if I allow it to. I will hold tight to this idea in the coming months. I have to find ways to not become complaisant about the rights of vulnerable people while also not spending all my days in fear and anger. If all my days are angry and sad, even if the cause for human rights wins, then something will be irrevocably lost. Grief should contain some laughter. Pain should make space for peace and joy. We have to find ways to be happy, especially when we’re surrounded by hard things.

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