Lately I've been feeling like I've been letting "them" stress me out. You know "them."
The infamous them: Situations. Other people. Circumstances. People on Facebook. Whoever "them" is, I've been letting them get in the way of my own happiness.
I realized I was doing this – giving away my power, as it were – and it made me think of Bruce, an avuncular fellow who drives people to and from Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. Twice a year I'm the guest speaker at Canyon Ranch. Bruce picks me up at the Albany train station and drops me off when I'm ready to go back to New York City. The first time I met him, I sat in the back of a fancy minivan. Bruce was giving my mother and me a ride to the train station and was determined to show us all his beloved spots on the way. The town of Lenox, Olivia’s Lookout, Tanglewood.
I had to keep asking my mom, “What? What did he say?” like a crazy old aunt in the back seat because I couldn’t see his mouth to read his lips. ( I lip read because I am very, very hard of hearing.)
Turns out Bruce was raised by deaf parents. He showed us pictures of his family. His wife at age seventeen. His granddaughter. His parents.
His wife had been beautiful in her turned-away from the camera way, thatpose popular in high school graduation pictures from the 60s. He told us she was going to be a nun until he came along. Her father had kissed him on the mouth in relief when he realized his daughter would not be a nun.
“He still wants to kiss me, but I don’t let him,” Bruce joked.
When I asked him if he’d ever felt sad that he wasn’t able to communicate better with his parents because they had been deaf, he told me that he was living the dream!
“Sad? I’m living the dream! My wife says to me everyday ‘Don’t let them steal your happy.’”
I think of the idea of parallel lives a lot. What if this, then that? What if I had ___, then would I now have ____?
In Bruce’s parallel life, his wife became a nun, and they never met, and his parents could hear, clear as a bell. Is it a better life? It’s impossible to say.
The only life is the one we are living, so better can't apply. It might be out there. Somewhere. On the side of the road or in the middle of the night inside a racing heart, but the only life worth knowing is the one here and now.
The timing has to be just so, so that when Bruce says “Don’t let them steal my happy,” I am facing him, I can see his lips, I can hear his words without the usual pillow-over-face-sound, and I can nod and agree over our luggage, "What else is life about?"
Do not let them steal your happy. If only I could print that out on t-shirts and hand them out on the streets. Here, take this. Here, wear this.
He told me that once, when he was a small child, he had said something mean to his deaf father while his father had his back turned. He smacked Bruce and sent him to his room. Years later, he asked his father how he'd known what Bruce was saying since his back had been turned. His dad said that he didn’t know what he had been saying, that he had just seen Bruce’s ears moving. When Bruce spoke, his father had told him, his ears moved. He also said that he could never scare his father like they’d wanted to as boys because the air moved as they approached him.
The air moved. How do you like that?
So the air moves. The subtle way the air moves and catches a parallel life, and here you are sitting with a man who understands hearing loss and happiness and what-ifs in the way most people don’t. You spend your whole life looking back and forward and staying awake trying to get a ceiling off your chest, and here’s the answer in the form of a driver. (Messengers are like that. They show up everywhere if you pay attention.)
Those other lives? The what-ifs? Don’t let them steal your happy, because they aren't possible. Ever.
Bruce's wife was never going to end up a nun. You were never going to end up there instead of here. I was never going to marry my high school boyfriend and live in Florida. My father was always going to die. Nothing I could've said or did would've changed that fact, no matter how hard I torture myself into believing that it would've.
It’s the way we keep ourselves awake at night. It’s the way we keep ourselves tethered to something unattainable and perfect. Perfect is always the what-if. Perfect is never the happy.
It’s the way we keep ourselves stuck, this letting something hijack our eyes and make us watch what we think was another option of our life. There is no other option.
Sure, starting now you can choose to go back to school or get a divorce, but you can never ever not have dropped out of college or not gotten married in 1969 to someone you wished you hadn’t. You can't undo the past. You can't change what has happened. You can't be here and also be there. You can't be a nun and be Bruce's wife.
Don’t let them steal your happy.
I would love to hear below if you are committed to being present. To not living in the realm of what if. Are you committed to not letting people steal your happy?