We make our own happiness. It’s waiting for us here, in this present moment. Waiting for us to stop regretting the past, stop worrying about the future. All the joy we could ever want is waiting right here. And here. And here. For us to open our eyes and hearts and live in it. I know that. But I forget a lot. It’s good to have reminders.
See, I have been feeling a little blue. Or maybe gray is the better word. Gray, like the light and the ground and the barren tree branches against the also-gray sky. My soul echoing the winter landscape in shades of gray. After a four-day weekend, today was back to reality. Kids back to school, and me starting my new part-time job in earnest. (Yes, I have a new job. First one since the kiddos. I’m sure I’ll talk about it more at some point, but for now, it’s part-time, work-from-home in my PJs on my own schedule, pretty much perfection.)
Anyway, Tuesdays are the kids’ dance class days, so we go frantic from school to snack to change clothes to dance class to drive home to late dinner to bedtime. So, because it was Tuesday, the kids didn’t see me as much as they usually do. And after four days together, with two half-days preceding that, they had gotten really used to seeing me. They came out of dance class smiling, acting just a tad witching-hour cuckoo, and my son said, “I missed you, Mommy.” I told him I missed him too, and started supervising shoe swapping and jacket donning. When we stood up to leave the dance studio, he quietly took my hand. We walked out holding hands. Awww. He really did miss me.
As we walked down the long hallway to the exit, the kids, completely unprompted, started telling me how much they loved me.
“I love you more than chocolate.” “I love you more than Angry Birds.” “I love you more than cake.” “I love you more than Chili’s.” “I love you more than school.” “I love you more than swimming.” Back and forth. Love-fest. Heart-melt.
Into the car and kisses all around. We had almost made it out of the shopping center when they spotted those golden arches. Buttered up as I was, was I really going to tell them no when they asked for McDonald’s? Of course I said yes. We try not to do fast food often, and they know it’s not healthy food, but they love it. So yes. OK. McDonald’s. I ordered two Happy Meals, and as the window opened so I could pay, my daughter exclaimed with delight, “I smell the French fries!” I replied that I smelled them too, and that maybe I should have ordered some French fries for myself. “I’ll share mine, Mommy. I love you more than French fries.”
Seriously? No one could have explained this to me when I was debating whether or not I wanted to complicate my life with children. No one could have conveyed how it would feel to have my five-year-old offer to share the, like, ten French fries that come in the teeny-tiny pouch in a Happy Meal. (No, I did not eat her French fries. They are her favorite part.)
As we pulled out of the McDonald’s, I swear, it was like the buildings parted. Concrete and office parks all around us, but the trajectory out of the McDonald’s parking lot happened to coincide with breaks in the buildings, so that we could see trees in the distance. And growing like magic out of those trees, a beautiful bright rainbow.
And then unicorns flew out my ass the whole way home. Yeah, pretty much.
We admired the rainbow, and then turned the car to head out to the street, where we saw the sunset on the other side of the sky. My son gasped and said, “The whole sky is golden!” It was. The setting sun had painted the storm clouds a brilliant molten gold, like a sky on fire. And then suddenly, the light all around us changed to that light that photographers call “half light.” Dim, but oddly crisp and clear, a sort of yellowish light that makes everything look a little bit pretend. Or maybe more real. Like the universe holds its breath on the brink.
It’s almost impossible to miss the present moment when you’re bathed in half light. It is the sun and sky’s way of saying, “Hey, humans, wake up. Soak up this moment. Be here now. Now. Now.”
The whole drive home, we watched the sky. Watched as the clouds became a strange kind of lit-up tan color with red and orange behind them. Stripes of purple and peach. Unexpected streaks of midday blue. If you painted it perfectly, no one would believe a sky could look like that.
And then the sun was gone and the gray returned. Gray barren trees against a gray sky. Cars all painted in shades of gray by the twilight, driving on a rain-soaked gray road. But now, the brake lights make the puddles glow like reflecting pools, shining windows into magical realms. Flashes of red and white shimmer against the gray. The stark trees make tone-on-tone patterns in the sky, and my hands itch for a paintbrush to capture the line of them.
Words are my paintbrush. But I can’t show you the trees as I saw them, or the sky dipped in gold, or the rainbow, or my daughter’s eyes, or my son’s smile. I can only remind you, as I was reminded today, that we make our own reality, and joy is waiting for us. In this moment. And this one. And this one.