Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sibling Assignment #124: The Ghosts of Happiness

Continuing with the theme of happiness, here's the next assignment from InlandEmpireGirl:

Read "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon and share your thoughts about where happiness comes from for you in a poem, essay, or reflection.

You can read InlandEmpireGirl's reflections on capturing images, here, and we'll look for Silver Valley Girl's post later.

Jane Kenyon's poem will come at the end of this post.

It's a common idea, maybe even a common assumption, that the past is something to put behind us, that it's over with. The phrase, "that's history" means that what's come before us is done. It doesn't really matter. It's history. The common phrase I hear used often in relation to the past is "move on".

What's done is done.

Look ahead.

Don't look back.

I've come to learn the past never leaves. It's alive, present, on the move, a constant visitor, a guest, often welcome, sometimes not.

When I'm most aware of the past being alive, the word I use is "ghosts".

I live in the constant company of ghosts.

They knock at my door, visit my sleep, hop in the passenger seat of my car, join my Kellogg friends and I when we have parties together.

Sometimes these ghosts haunt me. They demand that I not forget when I've been callous, insulting, exploitative, careless, arrogant, stupid, and heedless. I try to avoid these ghosts, distance myself from them, try to persuade myself that "that's not me anymore", but these particular ghosts beg to differ, insist that I not delude myself: they tell me repeatedly that I am what I was.

Most of the time, the ghosts who visit me do not haunt me. They thrill me, bring me happiness, remind me of where I'm from, where I belong, of what's real in my life.

Recently, over Presidents' Day weekend, I was with over a dozen of my Kellogg friends at Diane's home in Vancouver, WA.

Before meeting up with my Kellogg friends, Jane Eischen and met for lunch. We hadn't seen each other since 1974 and the moment we sat down and began to talk, the ghosts came flying in to Planet Thai. We talked for nearly five hours and Bruce, Sluggo, Rob, Liz, Rick, Peg, Tim, Jim, Darrell, John, Dennis, Joy, and countless other ghosts sat down with us, laughing, reminding us of old stories, nudging us to remember them, to speak of them fondly, telling us, as if we needed to be told, that if we are going to be authentic people, we have to relish where we come from, relish these friends and all they did for us, relish the joy of these ghosts.

By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I hadn't felt like dancing with my Kellogg friends, didn't know if I had the energy for it.

Earlier in the weekend, Diane and I had added Tom Petty to the mix of songs that were the soundtrack and the dance track for our get together.

Suddenly, "Learning to Fly" came over the speakers and I couldn't sit still.

I leaped to the dance floor.

I was fighting back tears.

The ghosts poured into the room, the ghosts of all my friends in the room, the ghosts coming from as early as 1955 on through, let's say, 1973.

They were the ghosts of Learning to Fly.

I was dancing with the friends I'd learned to fly with.

I learned to fly at square dance lessons, Sunday School, at the Little League field, at the Northwest Metal Workers Union Hall, dancing to live music, one band after another coming to town to play their version of "Honky Tonk Woman".

I danced to "Learning to Fly" and the ghost of Jake flew in the room and it was the year after we graduated and we were in Jake's rig and it was after midnight, maybe even after 1 a.m., and Jake said we needed some more beer and he went into Dick and Floyd's and came out with a sack of Oly and he pulled out an eight track of Beatles music and we drank Olympia beer and drove out near Cataldo where we wouldn't be bothered and Jake sang Beatles' songs and we drank beer and shot the shit and laughed.

I had to start work at 7 a.m., in just a few hours, but I didn't care. The beer was great. The music was perfect. The conversation was right.

I was happy to go to work drunk. If had to go throw up while pulling my first load, I'd do it.

Because I was with Jake and the Beatles and Olympia beer and I was learning to fly.

Jake's ghost made me happy.

All those other ghosts that danced with me and Sharon and Diane and Joni and Rick and Ed and Mike and Carol and Jake that night, they made me happy, too.

The ghosts keep my head on straight.

They keep my past alive and keep the spirit of being from Kellogg, Idaho alive.

It's real.

It's flying.

It's what makes me happy.


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon.
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

-Jane Kenyon

No comments: