Last week I saw a blog post by Daniel O’Brien at Cracked.com– 5 Videos That will Brighten Your Day— and the first video, along with his commentary, made some things clear to me that had not been so clear over the past year.
Surely many of us have moments when we feel like the guy who saw a flash mob starting and (in the words of O’Brien) must have thought “oh, life is a musical now?” Eleanor and I are always waiting for that moment when life is going to become a musical, except I believe that when it comes, I’m going to be able to dance the way I imagine it in my head, rather than the way my body usually responds when I get excited and try to join in.
I’ll give you another example. One time at a fancy holiday gathering at the house of Ron’s boss, I was sitting down at a table as someone mentioned the movie Elf. “Oh, I love that movie!” I said, loudly and enthusiastically, just at the moment I sat down far enough to see the face of a high muckety-muck who had been about to say how hokey it is.
Particularly during the holiday season, we expect happiness. As we get older, we think of people who are gone. I am still missing my friend who “unfriended” me, especially as the others in the group where she used to create great conversations have gotten too busy for talking as often. She was never too busy to talk to me, I thought–except she was, and I drove it to the point where it had to be all or nothing. I see that; I was like the guy trying to join in a choreographed dance without knowing the moves because he thought the world had turned suddenly magical.
But that doesn’t mean I think I can bring the friendship back from the dead or that I’m going to be less ardent about anything in the future. What I’m realizing is that the degree of fervor (devotion, exhilaration, impetuosity, joyfulness, passion, relish, spirit, vehemence, zeal) that I put into relationships can make them briefer. Ron says I have the most exacting standards for friendship of anyone he knows; certainly I have the worst teeth, as in this poem by S.E. Smith:
Briefly, it is possible. The rain shines down,
the bucket is ready. It makes a nice click,
the last snap on the jacket. It doesn’t have
to be a particular kind of jacket. But it has
to be November, and you must be at the zoo.
I’m just telling you what I’ve heard from others,
others who seem to know. I know a little
about teeth and what happens to them
around a surfeit of candies, but that’s
about it. It can be any kind of candy, as long
as there’s a lot of it. And this is what happens:
light lurches around the lawn like a maiden wasted
by too much pastoral goodness, heavy is her harp
which she has lugged along for company.
But such music, such ungainly sweetness!
Muchness becomes moreness, at which point
her friends show up, a gang of bilious shepherds
who toss her among themselves when they get mean.
It becomes clear that you must wait until they fall asleep
before attempting to make your exit, and by this point
your teeth have already begun to leave you,
so impatient are they.
This holiday season I’m going to try to be a little less impatient, a little less full of sweets and a little less loud about my expectations. Maybe I’ll try to look harder for the quieter kinds of happiness. Because at the point where my friends show up, I want them to be able to stay for a little longer than they can when I’m in the kind of frenzy that the character of Harris, in the movie LA Story, describes: “when I’m around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot’s version of being interesting.”
Still less do I want to end up like Pearl Tull in Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant. I’ve always felt like her daughter Jenny before, trying to lose my intensity, trying to learn “how to make it through life on a slant,” but lately I think the greater danger is that I’m getting like the mother, who thinks
“so much of herself had been invested in those children, who could believe how briefly they’d been with her?
When she thought of them in their various stages–first clinging to her, then separating and drifting off–she thought of the hall lamp she used to leave on so they wouldn’t be scared in the dark. Then later she’d left just the bathroom light on, further down the hall of whatever house they’d been living in; and later still just the downstairs light if one of them was out for the evening. Their growing up amounted, therefore, to a gradual dimming of the light at her bedroom door, as if they took some radiance with them as they moved away from her. She should have planned for it better, she sometimes thought.”
Planning to let go of things doesn’t mean I’ll be able to call, text, or comment less, but I’ll try to say less and leave others room to say more.
It doesn’t mean that our holiday games of telephone pictionary and charades will be less intense and hilarious–that’s one place I can let myself go, and that makes me happy.
What is a small thing you do this time of year that makes you happy?