I sense there is a lag time in our understanding of the circumstances of our lives. That it isn’t until now becomes then that we begin to have a clear grasp of what’s happened. In the moment we’re too busy processing all the information that’s coming at us. Sometimes the lag time is hours, sometimes months. Maybe even years. By then the setting and the characters from the story may be long gone from our lives. Still, the sense of what it was, how it felt, lingers and takes shape. Comes into focus.

This is the problem with this idea that we’re all supposed to be seeking happiness. Happiness travels much more slowly than words and actions. We’re in a moment, living it, but it’s usually not until we get further down the line and turn around and look back that we recognize happiness as having been present in the story.

I used to see this a lot with people nearing end of life. When our days are numbered and we know for certain we’re leaving soon a lot of us wish we had been more willing or able to recognize happiness when it was sitting beside us, in the moment. Happiness has this quiet patience, often ignored but tenacious, watching as we default to pessimism, frustration, fatigue and blame; as we quit things and move on, unwilling to stop long enough to look at the plain girl standing on the sidelines, Happiness. Usually shaking her head, I’m sure.

“I don’t know why I made my life so hard,” a woman told me once. She was dying and she wasn’t old. She had never been married, never had kids. She had worked hard for a long time to save lots of money so she could retire young and travel and see things. But right before the time she planned to retire she was diagnosed with a terrible and fast-moving cancer. She was so angry, she felt she had been gypped out of her chance to have some fun, to not work so hard for a change, to chase happiness down in Europe and the Caribbean. She was one of those people who did everything she thought she was supposed to do, but she didn’t get the payoff she felt entitled to. She got death instead.

I don’t really know what the moral of the story is. I wonder if that woman had had a glimpse into the future if she would have lived differently. If, instead of putting everything off with the mindset that when everything is right and the stars are all aligned and everyone is nicer and I have piles of money then I will do all the things I want to do and I will be happy she had simply woven that thinking into every day she was alive. An understanding this is enough, what I’m doing brings me satisfaction, I should go to Anguilla this year. Would she have died at peace, I’ve often wondered, if she had stopped putting everything off and taken a look around and seen how good it was and lived in it all, right then and there? Because she didn’t; she died mad as hell.

I wonder that about all of us, actually. Why it’s so hard for us to see the treasure in what we have when we have it?

The combination of memory and time is a funny thing. Certainly it can screw with us, we forget a lot of things, details become hazy; two people who had the same experience have two different stories. But I think it’s different with happiness. I think it’s really hard for us humans to recognize it when we have it and all too tragically easy to identify it later, after the fact.

I think we all would live differently if we understood better one of the most basic truths of life: someday you won’t have this anymore. There will come a day when you won’t have the luxury of relegating Happiness to the sidelines while you set the stage, duke it out, primp and prep. Someday you are going to run out of lag time.

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Everywhere, Always

It’s funny. I have been writing for so long now, here and everywhere else, that I can’t not write. I thought I could, which is funny.

It’s quiet here, the world is white again. A friend just sent me a link to a story about sobriety, which made think about my own story and what it felt like when I woke up on June 23, 2011 and walked into a new world, one without wine or beer, which are really hard to avoid and tremendously seductive here in our booze-crazed culture. I had loved those drinks and others dearly until that day and was more than a wee bit terrified to wonder what my life would be like or who I would be without them.

One time a waitress mistakenly brought me a mojito with rum in it, which was really funny because I was out having a fancy dinner with my love, celebrating one year of sobriety. I took a sip and burst into tears when I realized what had happened. That first year was a long one and I was so fucking proud of what I had accomplished. The sip didn’t undo anything, of course, but for a few minutes my little celebration bubble was burst.

I haven’t had a drink now for almost eight years though I’ve wanted a drink a hundred million times.

I have watched people drink too much and become idiots. I have been on the receiving end of drunken belligerence and meanness and I have watched as booze has ruined relationships and lives. I have struggled in every imaginable way with what it means to be a sober person in a drinking world, but I have managed to remain faithful to my story.

The cessation of drinking in my life was the beginning of my having any real faith. And the beginning of having real faith was the beginning of everything. It was sitting dormant in my body, somewhere, waiting for clear channels to manifest and when I corked the wine and poured out the tequila it finally had somewhere to go. It bloomed. It blossomed and it carried with it a thousand stories of how life could be better without the crutch of alcohol.

There have been many days when I have thought, ah a drink would be so great right nowif only I could wash this pain away with a really terrific glass of red wine. Instead I walk through the pain and suckiness and the loss and the grief and all the other shit that chews me up and spits me out all the time. I want to see who I am on the other side of grief, on the other side of hardship and pain. Booze was once my portal into an escape that never materialized. I fooled myself, time and again, into thinking that there would be salvation on the other side of a bottle of pinot noir. There wasn’t. On the other side of a bottle of pinot noir was a headache and regret and loss. Of people, of meaning, of dignity. Of all the life forces that matter.

I don’t know why I came back today to write about this, why my self-imposed hiatus from writing here was so short. Maybe I’m addicted to writing. How great is that? There are good and worthy addictions: to my kids, to a good night’s sleep, to God’s love, to faith and faith and faith. I go back to it with the savage hunger of an addict over and over, my faith. Faith, as it turns out, is the magic elixir.

I wish more people would stop thinking that drinking is cool. I wish more people would stop drinking, period. It’s a small wish, but I don’t see it gaining any traction in my lifetime. It’s a hard thing, almost impossible, to try to get someone else to stop drinking, or even to slow down. I was once in love with someone who had the habit of drinking secretly, excessively. Drinking had caused a lot of problems for him in his life and I hoped that love would hold enough transformative power to inspire him to turn away from the bottle. But even love, I learned, is sometimes no match for the wily stonghold of booze, the sinister fog of addiction.

And so I hold fast to faith. I pour a glass of it every morning, curl up with it at night. I’ll be carrying it in my hip flask everywhere, always. Amen.

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