The Texture of Water
Updated: May 31, 2021
I never know how to respond when people ask, “Are you happy?”
”Happy” is not a place that one can program into Google Maps with the expectation of arriving at 4:45pm on a Thursday. Happiness isn’t a destination; it’s an interlude spaced at appropriate intervals along the journey.
I’ve never seen ‘happy” listed on a Yelp review, “Our server forgot the French fries but was very happy.” Or on LinkedIn or a Match profile, “Retired, divorced, slender, happy.”
Yesterday, a friend I’ve known since 1974 but haven’t spoken to in 3 years asked if I was happy. My response was immediate. “I can’t contain all the joy I feel in my heart! And I’m lonely. Both are true.”
It slipped out. I didn’t mean to use the ”L” word but there it was. I said it. Out loud. The ensuing gasp was audible but not unexpected.
George Carlin knew there are 7 words you can’t say on TV and I know there are 7 words you can’t use in polite social conversation - and lonely is one of them. It makes other people too uncomfortable.
“Have you thought about moving? Or taking a class? Or volunteer work?” The compassionate, compulsive urge to immediately remediate the situation becomes rapidly apparent.
It seems there are two choices in this conversation. Either pretend or use the ”L” word. Authenticity or approximation today? (read The Back Room in WORDS). I'm never sure when to hide.
I was thinking about the psychological experiments done when studying LSD in the 60s when volunteers were blindfolded and plunged into huge vats of warm water and sequestered in soundless rooms. After a very short time, most began to hallucinate.
Social isolation is physically and emotionally corrosive. And yes, during this dreadful year, I realize that isolation is an experience shared by zillions of others globally, but for me the pandemic was reminiscent of being floated in a sensory deprivation chamber. Without the hallucinations.
Until recently, no one had been in my home, including my children, since December, 2019. I hadn't shared a meal, hugged or touched anyone, been inside anyone’s home, restaurant, or market, or seen a full-frontal face in person for over a year.
Thankfully my life is richly blessed and I like being alone. I have many interests and many dear lifelong friends scattered here and there, but the isolation and solitary confinement experienced by millions of us during the pandemic and at other times is, well, lonely.
And although I’m very glad to be aging (as opposed to the alternative), aging is not for the meek. My night vision is too limited now for me to drive or feel comfortable outdoors after twilight and although there are an infinite number of things far worse, that is a life-changer for sure. The Serenity Prayer offers sage advice and I gladly "accept the things I cannot change."
So every day after 4:00pm, give or take, I’m here alone.
“You post such beautiful photos of nature on Facebook! I never imagined you were lonely.” My friend acknowledges it makes her too sad to even think about that.
But what about yin and yang? In the philosophy of dualism, seemingly opposite and contrary forces are complimentary and interconnected and may exist simultaneously with equal strength. There isn’t hot without cold, good without bad, pleasure without pain, joy without sadness.
Many years ago when my beloved cat Gin died I was inconsolable. My daughter sent a note. “Mom, the reason you’re feeling so sad is because you loved her. Your sadness is a testimony to how much you loved her.”
I understand that. I’ve learned to celebrate sadness as well as joy; I know they are interrelated. One can’t exist without the other; they are inextricable. How would we know anything without a reference point?
Most days, I can be euphoric, enthusiastic and energized and can also be dispirited, bored and lonely. For me, happiness is not a perpetual state of being, but is interspersed within the cascade of blissful ordinary moments sprinkled about in every single day (see The Special Days in WORDS).
I asked my good friend, an artist and exceptional painter, if she likes to wash her hands in warm water.
“Of course!” she said.
“What do you think is in the water? Hot and cold water. They’re both in there!" I reminded her.
I love the feel water on my skin, even though its texture is indiscernible. And even when not singing “Happy Birthday” (twice), I like to wash my hands in warm water and am always grateful for the blending of the two polar opposites that make the temperature feel just right for me.