aI was trying to get the bits and pieces of my brain together to write an essay for Real Simple magazine’s current writing contest, themed “Your happiest moment”. It had a 1500 word limit and a $3,000 prize. No sweat. I even knew what moment I wanted to write about.
I started a rough draft in an actual notebook. This is how I started most of my better work. I really wanted this to be one of my better works, because after a long long time of trying to figure out what happiness was and how to maintain it and years of therapy and driving miles back and forth to various parts of the Southwest and millions and millions of gallons of coffee and God only knows how many trips to the thrift store/bookstore/doughnut shop, and being called crazy by someone whose job is to give advice at actual commitment hearings (That really happened! It put a joyful feather right there in my crazy aluminum hat.)
I had it altogether. It was very important because my very careful budgeting has revealed that I am short about $400 a month. And I ‘m not dead sure what that is going to come from. (Tutoring is a possibility but not for at least another few months until I get into the swing of things.) The extra cash would certainly help.
Guess what happened?
My best laid plans were nudged, pushed and kicked out of the way by three of my students needing to retest (I blame the pencils) after school and discovering that I needed to fit in two extra lessons into my packed day to get everyone caught up and I somehow dropped a weird glitch into the grade book causing a zero that wasn’t really a zero to pop up in Progress Reports and crush the spirits of a cadre of 9 year olds. So I had to fix all of that. And then I had to go home and re-heat my noodles and chicken for dinner as I made my lunch, fed my cats and pull some things together to wear to school, because, did I mention I have Morning Duty this week? Which means I have to to get to school at 7:15, entitling me to leave at 3:45 unless, of course, you have kids to test or have a meeting.
So here I am 18 hours too late to win the big prize. But it is important to me so here it is:
I am living a blessed life. I have I roof over my head and I kind of know where my meal is coming from. I even know where the cats’ next meal is coming from. I know that Happiness doesn’t come from other people. It doesn’t come from a place, and it certainly doesn’t care if you’re wearing make-up or if you remembered to shave your legs today. Happiness pops in and out when you least expect it. I have so many happy moments in my life to chose from, how could I possibly narrow it down to one?
When I finally found the one, I realized that it was many years in the making.
I have always enjoyed singing. When I was a child, I thought singing was simple, just open your mouth and go. When I was in the third grade, one of my fellow students said I wasn’t singing right. Well, what was that all about? I was smart and in the best reader group, how could I possibly be doing something wrong?
I remember very clearly, my third grade teacher, the beloved Mrs. Craven (she lived next door to the Von Erich family, they of the wrestling dynasty) standing next to me, listening for a moment and then declaring that I was off-key. I had no idea what this meant and being a small bear, I didn’t know how to fix it, so I kept getting worse. Mrs. Craven advised me to just move my lips during that song.
I do not recall what event required third graders to belt forth a musically superior rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but I do recall I did not sing it. I didn’t move my lips either.
Many years later when I was in high school, the Band Director decided that we had the talent to put together our own jazz vocal group. (I have no idea why a school that had a Clown Ministry, really, we did, did not have a choir director) One of my fellow vocalists was listening to me sing and not understand what the director was asking me to do. She said, “Listen for the note and hit it when you hear it and and you feel it.” She convinced me that if I could feel the note, I could sing it.
Fast forward to That Time My Head Blew Up. I had many, many challenges, including regaining the ability to to talk clearly and with inflection. I never even gave a thought to being able to sing again. I just wanted to be able to do something by myself that remotely resembled normal. At this point I couldn’t even fasten my own bra and didn’t have permission to shower without someone within shouting distance.
I was not concerned with singing.
One day I was in my hospital room listening to the soundtrack to “Oh Brother, where art thou?” and just enjoying the blue grass and the song “Down to the river” by Alison Kraus came in. I listened for a bit and right when the bridge swelled, I felt the note and I could sing it.
That was my happiest moment.
I think that’s what you call priceless.