Happiness is an act of will. This is particularly true when one is ‘different’. We live in a society that loves individuality but hates individuals. Everyone wants to be different but in exactly the same way that everyone else is different. Any one person, any ‘individual’ who actually does stand out from the crowd because of a physical or intellectual difference is noticed. Not as a welcome relief from routine, but as a target. Words land hard against the defenses we build to protect ourselves. Attitudes chip away at carefully constructed self esteem. One strains for self acceptance while battling tendencies towards bitterness. It would be easy to give way and simply be angry all the time.
I was sitting waiting for the car to be brought around, I was surrounded by bagsful of presents. Santa in a wheelchair. A woman approaches and I greet her dog who was wearing, literally, ruby slippers. She asks to me, out of the blue, ‘Why are you in a wheelchair?’ … I was taken aback but in a very good mood and I gave her a very quick and very brief explanation. Then she said, astoundingly, ‘We’ve got to get some weight off you, how are we going to do that?’ I said, ‘I think it’s rude to talk to a stranger about personal things.’ She said, ‘That’s OK, I’m a nurse.’ I said, ‘This conversation is over.’ She continued. Joe came in at this point and she was still trying to continue the conversation even has he was getting the bags. I kept saying, resolutely, 'This conversation is over.' Finally she shut up. I had been sitting there waiting, about to go celebrate a family Christmas. I sat in the car for about 5 minutes after Joe blew off steam about what he’d heard. Then I said, ‘OK, this is a happy day from now on.’ The decision was made. It is up to me how my day will go, not her. I had a terrific day. My happiness is an act of will.
Happiness is an act of defiance. This is particularly true when the world wishes you to be what it perceives you – an object of pity. ‘I’d rather be dead than disabled’ is a clear statement of hate; ‘But for the grace of God, there go I’ is a veiled statement of loathing; ‘I killed her because she suffered from disability’ is an acceptable and understandable statement for a father to make of a murdered daughter. To be ‘out’ and to be ‘happy’ is something that defies all reason, it’s something that ‘they’ have to struggle to explain. Our humour, our laughter isn't real to many, it's a 'mask for pain' (and it may be some times) or it's a defense against the harsh realities of life (isn't it that for everyone?) or it's simply, just, incomprehensible.
Joe and I were in the apartment building waiting for an elevator. We have one of those television screens above the elevator that brings headlines and local weather. It’s supposed to ‘inform’ but instead it reduces the opportunity for social contact. One of the headlines talked about a man being repeatedly shot in the thigh. As we got on to the elevator a fellow tenant, a woman of maybe 22, also got on. I joked with Joe about the headline. ‘They should have mentioned that the gunslinger was a guy in a wheelchair,’ then I held out my ‘gun hand’ finger extended and pretended to shoot repeatedly in the thigh. Joe laughed. So did she. Then she said to Joe, like I wasn’t there, ‘It’s good that he still has a sense of humour.’ Defiance, happiness is an act of defiance.
Happiness is an act of forgiveness. This is particularly true when your past holds dark times and dark memories. This is particularly true when you suffered through the rages and violence of another. This is particularly true when your childhood, or indeed any part of your life, was stolen from you by those more powerful, those in the grip of evil. I struggle every day to live in the ‘now’ even though my emotions, immature children that they are, forever wish to live amongst the ruins of the ‘dark times,' the rubble of childhood 'innocence'. I struggle every day to forgive myself for my past – only those who have been victimized know what that statement means.
I was having coffee with friends. A scent wafted by. A scent in the present that pulled me to the past. That pulled me to a vivid, ugly memory. That pulled me to a moment so quickly that my shock almost cause me to cry out. I see that moment in my mind now, I will not describe it. I will not spend time there. I will reach into my soul and grab hold of my mind’s shirt collar and pull myself back from then to here. I will hold my self gently and say, ‘it’s OK, it wasn’t your fault’ and then, I will sip my tea. Freshly forgiven. And move on. Happiness is an act of forgiveness.
Dark times. Long nights.
An aside: I wake up sweating. Confused. I know something is very wrong. I feel panic in my chest. I sit in the dark. Time slows. My mind fights to figure out the danger. There must be danger. I feel fear. I feel it deeply. Sweat begins to run down my back. I consider waking Joe. I need him. I need someone. But instead I rise and walk, unsteadily from the bedroom. I know I know what to do. I know there is something to do. I don't remember what it is. After visiting the bathroom and returning to sit on the side of the bed, I feel a 'knowing' growing. A realization. I have diabetes. Sometimes I have very low blood sugar. Low sugar makes me confused, fearful, forgetful. I rummage around to find the tester. I'm low. I know what to do.
To return: In the midst of dark nights of the soul, long dark nights filled with despair. I become forgetful. I become confused. I know, just know, that the fears I have are real, and they most often are. Yet there is more. Much more. Then a slow sense of knowing. A realization. I have a power. An amazing power. One I forget in the midst of emotional chaos. Even in the midst of real crisis. I have the power to choose how I will experience my life. I have the power to be the sole pilot of my soul.
No more and never again will I give that power over to another. Anyone. Not even to any 'thing' not to fear, not to self pity not to anger. “My mind is my own. My heart is my own. My body is my own.” This is part of the ‘Pledge of Personal Power’. It is not simply a mantra, it is a prayer to self, it is an acknowledgement of something incredibly important. I am who I decide I am. And with this power I will to happiness. And with this power I defy all prejudices. And with this power I forgive … myself … for the wrongs I’ve done and the wrongs I’ve suffered … and with forgiveness, begin anew.
Happiness will not cure cancer. Happiness will not put money in an empty bank account. Happiness will not ensure that love comes or that love lasts. Happiness is only it's own reward. And it is reward enough. Yes, I will to happiness.
I do so because, simply, I can.
What a powerful post....will take some time to digest it all.
The wheeliecrone says -
You are absolutely right, Dave. We are each responsible for our own emotions. They belong to each of us and I alone have the right and responsibility to own my emotions in the way is most healthy and/or appropriate for me and my situation at a given time. And you have that same right and responsibility. You have defined your ownership of your emotions more clearly than anyone I have ever read before. Thank you.
On another subject:
Do you snore, Dave? The reason I ask is this - I snore mightily. I have sleep apnoea. When I do not use my CPAP machine while I sleep, I have horrendous nightmares - usually about being strangled or having large boulders crushing my chest and I awake in terror. Just thought I would mention it.
I have read your posts everyday for a long long time. I always find them thought provolking. Today was perhaps one of my favorites. (It's hard to pick from, and mostly I LOVE the ones about Ruby)But todays was sooo good - I saved it on my desk top. I know where you get the words...I have searched for them in my own soul. Thank you.
Words to live by! This is a post I'm going to share with a lot of people - you're a wise man!
Maybe this is my favorite RAIMH post ever. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with the world.
I love your blog and read it faithfully; thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I had to comment: "It's ok, I'm a nurse.." What the heck???? I don't understand that logic at all. Under what bizzaro moon does being a nurse qualify one to force unwanted and unneeded advice on a total stranger?
On a happier note, may your holidays be merry! The image of Santa in a wheelchair made me happy too.
Such a powerful post, Dave. I know I will refer back to it. Thank you.
P.S. Is the "Pledge of Personal Power" something you have shared that I missed? If not, would you be willing to share it in its entirety?
Searched for "Pledge of Personal Power" in your blog "archives" and found it. Very cool.
Thank you, Dave.
Thanks Dave, You always seems to offer a bit of wisdom just when I need it. I too believe happiness is a choice and today I needed reminded.
it never fails to amaze me the way people don't apply the same sort of boundaries in conversations with us cripples as they do with other people. And the "we" - don't get me started on the we-ing that so many feel compelled to use with children, the elderly and the chaired. When inflicted by the we-ing, I always say "I don't know about you, but I am..." and most people don't get it. I am incredibly impressed with not only your presence of mind to shut this rude woman down (because my comebacks always arrive in my mind about half an hour after the incident), but also with your ability to leave it behind. Happiness is indeed an act of will.
Excellent post. Looking forward to the Carnival!
Wow. All I can say is wow. I think I will have to come back and read this many times. I felt like I was holding my breath as I read it, because it was breath-taking, so dense and rich and oomph. It spoke to me.
"I am who I decide I am." That's a powerful, empowering message.
Thank you for this and for every post -- I read them all.
This was so moving Dave. Thanks for always making me think and feel and learn new things.
I've referred back to this post a number of times on my own dark nights and it really helps.
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