The other night around one a.m., I was lying in bed reading, as I usually am at that hour, when I felt so overwhelmed by happiness that I had to put my book aside. I could no longer concentrate on the words. I wanted to go outside and run down the street with my arms wide open. I wanted to lift my creaky voice and sing an aria. But since my health wouldn't allow for the former, and my sleeping family didn't deserve the latter, I just sat in bed and smiled.
Exultant was the word that came to mine. "Perfect joy" was how Ted described it when the energy I was giving off woke him up--in spite of my best intentions. And yes, it was that--indescribably perfect joy--for absolutely no reason. Happiness as free gift. No one had called me at one a.m. to tell me I'd won the lottery, or hit the bestsellers list; I hadn't recently fallen in love. Or maybe I had--though not in the way the term is usually used. Maybe I'd left the shallow, mundane world I usually occupy and fallen through a trap door to the place where being in love is quite simply our natural state.
So what triggered this crazy intemperate fit of happiness? It seemed to be a confluence of circumstances: the peace of the house late at night, the cool wind that was blowing through the window, and the presence of Ted beside me. But most of all it was a passage in the book I'd been reading-- a yet to be pubished novel called THE GARGOYLE by Andrew Davidson which the publisher sent me for review. In that passage, a young debut author had managed to accomplish the highest thing a writer can hope to do, at least for this reader: open the trap door, and reveal the goodness and the love we are meant for.
The next day I went back and re-read the passage, wondering why it affected me as it did, but I couldn't recreate the way I felt the night before. I couldn't feel the cool, dark wind that came through my window, couldn't see the way my reading light illuminated my messy, imperfect bed, or my equally messy, imperfect life. I could remember it and I could smile about it, but I couldn't have it back--not exactly. I guess that's the way it is with free gifts. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed.
In my late night hour of perfect joy, I thought that this time I might remain exultant forever. This time I "had it." But the next day, the trap door quickly shut behind me. I allowed myself to be offended when a friend commented rather unkindly on my weight loss; and I repeated my petty complaint to everyone I encountered--spreading the negativity. "How insensitive can she be?" I raged. "Would you say that to your worst enemy?" I ranted. But as usual, nourishing my outrage only left me feeling drained and sick of myself. Eventually, I realized all I had to do was shut-up and let it go, and poof! It was over.
So no, I don't yet "have it." I haven't trapped bliss under a hat or captured it in a jar. I haven't moved permanently into the country behind the secret door. But for some reason, I seem to visit with increasing frequency. For some reason, I find myself startled, accosted, flooded by happiness in the damnedest places, at the most unpredictable times more and more often. It comes in hospital beds, and in the bed where I've slept for more than twenty years; it's there when I'm tired and on the wonderful days when I feel a surge of my old energy. I don't know where it comes from, but I can only hold out my humble cup, and say, "yes, please" when it arrives, and "thank you" when it passes by.
So here it is--the existential question of the week (remember those?): When was the last time you felt incredibly happy for no particular reason?
*And speaking of perfect joy, all photos were taken at my grandson Hank's first birthday party.