I think it was Thoreau who said the secret to happiness is spending 4 hours a day in nature. My neighbor up north has a degree in French literature but spent his working life as a postal carrier because he loved being outdoors every day. Tom was like that. His brother joked at the funeral that whenever Tom took a new job he insisted on a “wind clause”. This basically meant that he would come to work unless there was exceptionally good wind and then he would be sailing. He knew the value to his soul of being outside and he almost always found a way to make that happen—even after marrying a couch potato.
I recently came across one of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts books from the 60s entitled Happiness is…. Each page shows another definition of happiness and the one that spoke loudest to me shows Sally standing next to a calendar with a date circled and is captioned “Happiness is having something to look forward to.” That premise has ruled my adult life and never more so than now when one of the biggest things looming is not happy—the anniversary of Tom’s death. I have lightness and fun packed in around that date like foam peanuts cushioning a Waterford vase. First comes the reunion of what Elissa calls our Mother-Daughter (no daughters) Book Club (no books). In other words all the moms still like each other and just want to get together to eat and talk and probably drink. That will be BIG fun and soon after my extended family will gather to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday and then there will be a trip to Florida and then the Oscars telecast (guilty pleasure) and then the Broadway Bound kids doing their Fiddler on the Roof production and then Alyssa will go to state solo and ensemble and my siblings will meet up in Vegas and then Alyssa will turn 16 and in June will go off to Alaska for her final year of summer camp and I will meet up somewhere somehow with The Compton 6—friends from my freshman hall — for our 40th college reunion. YIKES!!
I come from a culture of busy. It’s what we do best, it’s what we saw growing up, it is our comfort zone and also our happy place. I’ve stopped fighting it. I was miffed at my best friend years ago because she just didn’t seem to have time for me and she unapologetically explained that she was happiest when very very busy and that wasn’t going to change so please just accept it. I suspect Tom felt the same way when he met me and likely got a similar answer when he raised the issue. My sister’s kids joke that her offer to babysit “anytime” isn’t worth the air it floated in on as they have to book her weeks in advance to find an open spot on her calendar. She is involved in more organizations and activities than I’d have the patience to type here, but she loves every one of them and wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel the same about my calendar. It does not need to be crammed full, but I do need a steady stream of upcoming events that I anticipate with glee.
Accepting others as they are does not come naturally to me. It is a work in progress and I hope I am progressing. It took me many decades just to fully absorb that not everyone thinks the way I do nor are they on one long quest to become more like me—fast, decisive, efficient. It turns out some people don’t value those qualities at all and prefer gentle, kind, quiet folks. Go figure. So the point here is that to me happiness is lots of great stuff on the calendar, to others it might be a calendar page that is 100% blank and will allow them to improvise whatever kind of day they want or need right then. That’s why Schultz put so many pages in the Happiness book. A Beethoven Sonata might ring Schroeder’s bell but for Snoopy it’s a Red Baron chapter and for Charlie Brown just sitting next to the little red-haired girl.
February 13 will still be the anniversary of Tom’s death. That doesn’t change just because we will spend it in an airport. But he was a guy who knew how to be happy and he is watching me try to channel that every day. I will keep finding good things to look forward to —and will also get outside more, sweetheart—even in winter. Promise.