It comes like it’s always come when the mundane sharpens into focus and I do not run from it. Happiness comes to me not in the expanse of a life considered or the image of a vocation chosen or the reputation of my hometown on “best of” lists. It comes to me in the details, peculiar. Suddenly.
Thomas Merton wrote, ” If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”
When I was discerning my life’s work and purpose as an unemployed 24-year old, I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. And I wrote my “morning pages” of free-thought journal entries for the sake of following directions. And I took myself on artist’s dates for the sake of saying I did it. And I called myself a writer because she told me to.
I also made lists.
I found one recently, the one that said what I wanted to be living for, in detail. It wasn’t a moral list. I didn’t mention Christianity or feminism or my marriage or any of the things that meant the most to me, if you had asked. Instead, I wrote out my ten professional ideals, in order:
1. Flexible schedule and ability for autonomy
2. No boss, or a boss who inspires me
3. Shared set of values among co-workers
4. Measure of success is on the intangibles, the soul level
5. Communication of my ideas, and not just the company’s
6. Artistic aesthetic
7. Direct contact with those I’m serving/being served by
8. Money is enough to feel valued but not more than is needed to live simply
9. Work with my hands, regularly
10. Bring my dog to work
Finding that list recently felt like finding a letter from a past lover, one who surprised me with their accurate and intimate portrayal of my life, even after five years. As I checked off almost each one in my current work as a writer and consultant (I do still ache for more embodiedness in my work), I could not let it fall back into my pile of thoughts to file.
It was a strange thought to be happy in my work, after all the striving and discerning and dreaming; I am not naive to think there won’t be more of these heartaches to come. But I hadn’t dared consider it might happen upon me so soon for fear of bringing on some divine jinx.
But, here in this place, I whispered to my husband with the list folded in my hand, “Look. I am happy.”
“And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” – Wendell Berry (Collected Poems)