I watched a sweet and touching movie the other night, a film adaptation of Maeve Binchy's novel, Tara Road. Maybe if your life has been perfect, you won't be able to relate to this movie, but I found myself connected to these female characters.
The story is about two women, one in Connecticut, the other in Ireland. Each of them has suffered tremendous loss. Marilyn, in Connecticut, tragically lost her teenage son who died in a motorcycle crash at his birthday party, where he had just received the bike from his dad. This boy was her only son, and without him, Marilyn has become numb to life, and to her husband. Ria, in Ireland, finds out that her husband is leaving her for his younger, pregnant girlfriend, despite the two children and the life they have built together. The two women, in an attempt to get some distance from their pain, and some privacy to evaluate their lives, end up switching houses for a month.
Ria, staying in America in Marilyn's house, gets to know Marilyn's friends, who are charged with looking out for her. One friend, a restaurant owner, especially takes an interest in her, and is tender with her pain. As Ria vents about the abrupt end to the life she felt secure in, about the nonsensical decision her husband is making to leave her, to leave their two children, the beautiful home they built together, to leave the life they have created, the man says to her in an offered explanation,
"Some people think they were put on this earth just to be happy."
Maybe nobody else caught that line in the movie. It slips by just as simply as it is offered. But to me, it was the theme of the whole story.
Like I said at the beginning, if you've had a perfect life, then you might not even bat an eye at this saying. You might not even understand why it stands out to me like it does. You might even argue, "Well, of course! Who doesn't want to be happy?"
Well, I do, for sure. But I think there's something better. After all, "men are that they might have joy."
My first husband left our marriage, because, well, because he was not happy, he said.
"But what about the children?" I pleaded.
"They'll be happier if I'm happier. I need to be happy. I deserve to be happy."
Well, all these years later, I'm not sure if the decision he made has been fraught with total happiness. Sure, he claims he's happy, and in many ways he probably is, but I wonder if he sold out something richer, something more satisfying, for something immediate, and beguiling. What if he capped out at happy?
I do it too. All the time. We live in a world that whispers of the pursuit of happiness. What if it's mostly a lie? What if happiness is like the basement level of what we can really have in this life, if we'd be content to be unhappy sometimes momentarily?
What if we miss out on a lot of joy in our search for happy?
I think 2009 will be about my quest for joy. You know how when you clean out a closet the whole place gets messier than before you ever opened the doors? Maybe happy would have been never opening the doors. After all, with the doors closed no one can even see the disarray. Maybe joy comes after overlooking the mess of everything strewn about, in anticipation of the order that is sure to follow. I don't expect that my joy will be full by Dec. 31 of this year. I expect that I will have some happy, and probably some unhappy. But I think I'd like to invest in the long-term plan.
I just may be surprised.