We were having lunch today at a Mexican restaurant, and Steve asked me,”Where are you, emotionally? You seem like you’re not all here.” He often asks me this because I somehow got adept at hiding my feelings, for various reasons. I ran through the list – mad, sad, glad or afraid – but nothing jumped out at me. I thought harder. “I feel glad, but guilty.” Have you ever been ashamed for being happy or content? Did you ever think that feeling happy could not possibly be genuine? That if you were glad, you must be missing something? The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. I do think there’s truth in that, but I don’t think that means you must always feel sad. I don’t think that if you feel happy, you must be Pollyana with her head in the sand. Yet somehow, in this world, in this economy, when people are going back to work after Labor Day and kids are getting roused out of bed to go to school, I feel a bit guilty for having a blissful day. Steve used to say he was amazed at my capacity to “bliss out” – this was when we were dating, and my weekend with him, away from work, away from my lonely home, would be one of indulgent relaxation. I suppose that I am reluctant to put obvious energy into this stolen pleasure; it would be like gloating. That’s why it’s hard for me to say what I feel. But, dammit, I am happy! I’m having a wonderful day. I have a wonderful life. It’s September, and the clarity of the air without the summer humidity dazzles me. The sunshine is crisp, the colors are bright. I remember feeling this way out in the prairie one day about 15 years ago and writing this poem:
In September’s Ease
Prairie grasses, butterflies,
Queen Anne’s lace, Black-eyed Susans
Cacophony of winged things
A chipmunk scurry-stops and sings
Invisible mid-distance of a spider’s web
Or inchworm’s thread
Fur-stemmed sumac’s reddened hue
Feather-wisps in sunny blue
Summer’s heat slowed by a breeze
Reclining in September’s ease
Prostrate between the Earth and Sun
The Artist and the art made one.
Am I able to feel this joy and also be aware of the suffering that is always around? I am aware of the impermanence of everything, but I am enjoying this moment. I don’t want to get too attached to it, so I’m not jumping up and down, but I am smiling. Thich Nhat Hahn writes about smiling in a lovely way; I am reminded of smiling Buddhas I’ve seen. I hope you smiled today, too.