Life is a series of conversations punctuated by stints of sleep and silence. This is an idea that has brewing in me for a while now. Because for me, I don't so much as remember things or events, but the people who were there and what they said. One conversation that sticks with me was about happiness. Three law school friends and I sat around a table at a buzzing sushi restaurant in midtown talking about our respective definitions of happiness. One friend said that happiness was the lack of sadness; pleasure, the lack of pain. This utilitarian vision riled a couple of us up. True happiness must be more than the absence of misery, right? Happiness is something unto itself. We continued to sip our white wine and ask ourselves and each other these precarious questions: would we rather lead even-keeled lives, satisfying and safe lives, where there were no real highs and lows? Or, would we rather live the roller-coaster life, an existence characterized by very high highs, but also very low lows. At the time, I was adamant. I would prefer the latter life, one full of tumult and excitement, rather than an even, but also lackluster life.
This was many years ago. Seven, I think. But I can see us now, the four of us wearing our trademark black, wielding chopsticks, pontificating - proudly, pretentiously - about life. At that time, we were all in relationships, some that would last and some that would be tested, or crumble. We were ensconced in the padded walls of an elite law school education. Today, things are different. Each of us has experienced true sadness and loss. Each of us has also experienced utter and unbridled joy for we are all mothers now, whether rookie or a few seasons in.
Today, we are tethered creatures. Tethered geographically and personally. To husbands and families and little girls who need us. Tethered in the best way possible. We stay in touch. We stay as close as we can in the midst of our modern day mayhem. We send emails. We send pictures. From time to time, we speak on the telephone. But, predictably, understandably, our conversations are limited in length and content. We talk about things, sure. We talk about babies and bedtimes, about husbands and homes. But, rarely, all too rarely, do we have a conversation like that one that night at the darkened sushi restaurant. When we dared to ask ourselves about that thing we all want, that thing that transcends the geography that divides us and the day-to-day that unites us: happiness.
I hope that sometime soon, the four of us will reunite. That we will leave our lovely husbands and babies at home and go out to that same Sixth Avenue spot. That for one night, we will clink glasses and lock eyes and ask ourselves that very same question: what does it mean to be happy? And I wonder whether our answers will be different this time.
I know what I would say. That happiness and sadness are in fact intimately and inscrutably linked. That weathering sadness can often create enhanced happiness on the other end. That I would still rather have the ups and downs, the triumphs and the tragedies, than a safe and static status quo. That, for me, happiness is conversation. With Husband about our dreams and our kids. With my girls, about Cheerios and cartoons and cats. With friends, new and old, about things, big and small. With my sisters about our shared childhood and its aftermath. With Mom about how she did it. With myself about who I am now and who I am becoming, what I want and what I don't. With all of you, strangers and sisters and fellow students of life, about everything, but especially about the things that are hard to say or admit or imagine. The things that don't show up on the pages of a celebrity glossy. The things that don't float about at a civilized cocktail party or in a conference room. The things that are hard and uncertain and fragile. The things we too often ignore.
How do you define happiness? Would you prefer the highs and lows or a more settled and safe existence?