As a kid, I lived with a lot of adult problems. My father’s alcoholism, my mother’s co-dependence, poverty, and neglect. I was always very protective of them and always taking care of them when they probably should have been taking care of me. I grew up in a world where everything was dysfunctional and came from a place of lack. But I knew I was loved, always, and that gave me something to hold onto.
As a kid, I tried very hard to be perfect. To be normal. To feel happiness when I had no idea what happiness even meant–no models to tell me. But I was also a kid who held onto her humanity and was reminded of it, often. And I credit that part of me to those people who reached out to me–allowing me to stay open and strong when things got even harder.
I am sharing all of this now because I was reminded of it today. Like four million times.
Today wasn’t ideal. My neighbor woke me up, drilling something into the wall that abuts my bed. He kept on and kept on so long that I just decided to get up two hours early and feed the cats. I was irritated. Okay–maybe, I thought about stuffing a turkey baster up his ass. (I’m not perfect. Heh).
I fed the cats and started on the stuffing. The butter was super hard, and I actually broke (!) the spoon I was using to break it up. Shrapnel went flying into the living room. And before I could go pick it up, Rilly was on it–trying to eat it. Probably because it was coated in butter. Luckily, Rilly is kind of dumb, sometimes, so I was able to wrangle it away from him. Undeterred, I used the broken spoon to finish my task. It actually worked better. Ha. I then cut up the apples and retrieved my pre-cut onions and celery from the fridge. (I’ve learned the hard way to minimize my chopping duties on holidays because I tend to get distracted and cut my finger). I dumped it all into the crock pot, chopped a tart green apple, and dumped that in as well along with hot water from our Deep Rock machine. I placed the turkey I got from Whole Foods in along with some dried herbs, dried fruit, salt, and pepper. I then carried the whole shebang over to the base and set it on low. I let the mixture warm and melt together. After an hour, I removed the turkey, added two large bags of croutons along with more seasonings, and stirred. I then returned the turkey to sit on top of the stuffing mix and added a bit of turkey stock and more butter to make everybody happy and moist. I set it to 8 hours. Thanksgiving dinner was now pretty much done.
I then showered, got dressed and pretty, and looked for my coat. And discovered I packed my parka. Which was kind of a problem because it started snowing–big, beautiful flakes–overnight and it was actually cold. (I’ve been getting away with heavy sweaters and hoodies for most of autumn). I cursed a bit, tried to remember which box it was in and decided to just wing it and wear the wool jacket I found while searching. Layers are my friend, right? I ordered Uber and made my way to the nursing home.
Volunteering has been in my blood since I was little. Even when we had nothing, my parents always took me downtown to the shelter to help serve meals. Then, we’d go home and eat the meal we prepared late into the night the previous day. It was a tradition that stuck after daddy died, even, and Thanksgiving –to me–was always this day where everyone had something to be grateful for. It reminded me, always, that things could always be worse and that I was rich in all the ways that mattered.
That spirit of giving has always been so ingrained in me, and I’ve held onto it during the most difficult times in my life. It kept me an optimist–kept me smiling–and it’s where I found a lot of happiness. I volunteered all through high school and college. Even in my adult life, I did it. But in more recent years, when my health got challenging, I had to focus more on myself and give less time. But I was still in school for nonprofit management, so I sort of gave of myself–but not in the same way.
Lately, I’ve felt a lot better physically. I’ve missed my volunteer work so much, and I knew I really needed to do something this Thanksgiving. As much as I love volunteering at the soup kitchen, it can be a pretty impersonal experience because it’s so popular. I thought–where can I really make a difference? And I decided I’d hang out with old people who maybe wouldn’t have any visitors this year. A friend of mine runs a nonprofit, and I’ve done this stuff in the past–in high school–and really enjoyed it. So, that’s how I spent a big chunk of my day. Speaking to seniors who had no one there, listening to their stories and helping them make crafts. Dancing with an older man who maybe had a crush on me.
I had woken up so grumpy and so many things had gone wrong, but life was just beautiful. I laughed and smiled. And they gave me so much more than I gave them.
I decided several weeks ago to start volunteering regularly once we’re all moved out to San Jose. I’ve found a couple youth-oriented organizations, and it really makes me inspired to do more even before we leave here.
On the way home, I bought a new coat on Amazon–rushed it, actually–since I have jury duty on Tuesday. Nothing was really a great fit–but whatever.
When I walked in the door, Rilly was being insane. Fogg was chewing the sisal rope off the cat tree. Eating it. I yelled at her. Because sisal can harm her, if ingested, and started taping the loose bits so she couldn’t get at them. I’m thinking we’ll need to replace that thing for a non-sisal one in the near future.
I checked the crockpot, heated up my lunch of sage butter, prosciutto wrapped chicken breasts and homefries, ate a banana, drank some wine, and caught up with Facebook. And then the fire alarm went off. And the fire trucks arrived. And I did not go outside. Nope.
At that point, I was like, “WTF, Universe!” Yesterday, I had so been looking forward to this calm, great day. I was so grateful. And today was just this crazy up and down rollercoaster.
And then I remembered–this is life. It’s unpredictable. It’s full of crap, sometimes. It’s inconvenient. And some things? You just have to get through. And then there are these magical moments where it all makes sense, and you know why you’re here.
You have to be grateful for all of it. Because all of it matters. This was a powerful epiphany for me, and I think I had it because I’ve been outside of the holiday culture for such a long time.
People try so hard to make the holidays perfect. To cook the best turkey and make everything beautiful. And then life decides to show up. Uncle P gets drunk. Aunt Mary asks the single people about their future children. People talk about Donald Trump. The cranberries burn. The fire alarm goes off mid-bite. People who should be there aren’t. And we miss them.
We could give up right there. And many of us do. I know I did. When life wasn’t what I wanted, I opted out. I said, “Nope.” Just like I said “nope” to that fire alarm and going out in the snow without a proper jacket.
But the reality? We can’t control a damn thing. As much as we want to. It’s so easy to choose our comfort zone. To choose what we think is ours and what we think we need/want. But in doing that, we lose. We miss out on being surprised. We miss out on growing up. We don’t heal. We stay small and angry and sad and alone–even in rooms full of people.
And that’s our prerogative.
But I’m here today to tell you it’s a choice. One I made repeatedly throughout my life. One that I now regret so much. You can choose to be those things–to be miserable–or you can choose to live.
Life isn’t easy. It beats us up. It blindsides us. It’s incredibly unfair. You might get shit you don’t know what to do with. But that’s where happy is.
People talk about happiness like it’s some random emotion that we can achieve by being good enough to deserve it.
But it isn’t.
Happiness comes when you allow yourself to sit in the unknown that is your life–and take whatever comes…good, bad, ugly…accept it for what it is…and love it. Eventually. Immediately. It’s a practice. It’s a choice. It’s a miracle.
Open yourself to the possibility that there is more out there than you could have ever imagined–that these things will come when you least expect it–that it’s all good.
And be thankful you’re still here to be blindsided.