Not long after my last blog post, I got a happy fortune cookie:
You will soon witness a miracle.
I kind of wanted to pick the miracle – I had one or two in mind. But I couldn’t help thinking of the fortune when a few short days later, I heard this: You do not have cancer today.
That moment always shrinks my head space from lots of things – good and bad, to this: I am alive. I am alive. I am alive. That’s it. That’s all that matters for at least the rest of that day. There is nothing else but that, and the people within arm’s reach (or an email) to whom that news means perhaps even more than it means to me.
You know how I love to simplify, something I now think of as the happiness of subtracting. We tend to think of all the things we need to add to our lives. But have you ever noticed how much happier a child is in their room when it’s neat and clean, and they can see all their toys? We’re no different. I find sheer joy in opening a kitchen cabinet to neat stacks of matching dishes, and not too many of them. I adore turning a jam-packed closet with clothes I only kinda like into several favorite pieces I can mix and match without thinking very hard or feeling so-so about it all. Simplifying is happifying. That’s what I believe.
And that’s just the stuff. Lately, I’m trying to picture my life with this possibility. I picture my life like it’s on display before me, like a miniature room at the Art Institute of Chicago. I hold against the display the person I want to be, the life I want to have lived once the living is over. Then – because, let’s make it digital now – I swipe. This goes out, this gets bigger. Subtract two, replace with one. Keep swiping until it looks like the life picture I intend to live.
When I subtract clothes from a closet or mismatched dishes from the shelves, it’s like the closet or cabinet can breathe again. I want my life to breathe like that. I don’t want to get to the end of it and say, “Look how busy I was! I don’t even remember 39.” I want to be able to list every single thing that mattered, the places I saw, the people I loved, and the things we did, one at a time, in their proper time, without being too crazed to truly make them count.
I love to want things. Wanting things is usually what drives me – from new books to new furniture to big, immeasurable dreams. But lately, I can’t stop thinking about the small square space of happiness. It’s right here all the time. It’s in my car, all alone, when I’m in control of the music. It’s one man, two tall boys, and one beautiful 9-year-old who says bless you after every single sneeze and always kisses me on the forehead when we say goodnight. It’s a deep breath, the realization that I choose, every minute, how to respond to the things outside of this small space.
There is so much to reach for in this life, so many people I want to meet and places I want to see and things I want to have done. But I will never be happier than right here, right now. If it’s not within, it’s not anywhere.
I’m alive. That’s it. And it’s happy.