“Are we there, yet?”
The phrase that irritated me for the thousand times a week it bore into the back of my head now haunts me.
It had taken forever for me to convince the boys to leave their seat belts alone, to keep their hands from compressing the buttons that stood between confinement and filial battle. And more than once, I found myself wishing that rather than cross their laps, the belts crossed their mouths, stilling the staccato tarantella that skipped across my brain.
Silently, I would curse my husband for wanting children so close in age; built-in playmates, he would argue as though siblings were naturally adept at civility and sharing. Never marry someone who was an only child, I would remind myself; too many delusions of a happy peaceful family to dispel.
“Are we there, yet?”
The words and whine a cattle prod to my ear drums, my head involuntarily snapping to one side, threatening to glance off the door frame, the open window insufficient to drown the drone from the back seat.
“Has the car stopped moving?” I’d shout at the rear-view mirror as though it was the source of my agony rather than simply a reflection of what I’d left behind.
For a second—a glorious second—the car would go silent, but the silence was an illusion, a prelude to crises yet to come. Inquisitive urges not quelled so much as turned aside, as unsatisfied attention-seeking demanded to be slaked.
“Mo-o-om!” came the high-pitched cry.
“I’m not doing anything,” its wounded echo, pre-emptorially defending actions yet unchallenged.
“Enough,” I charged, confronting the miniature offenders with turned head.
The light was green, or at least that’s what the report said, as though the colour protected me from my guilt any better than it protected my car from the panel van approaching from the left; as though an absence of fault even approximates an absence of self-loathing anguish.
The car was a write-off, and after six months of my husband’s words telling me it wasn’t my fault while his eyes told another story, so was my marriage.
And now, sitting here in my wheelchair, all I can think of is “Are we there, yet?”
In the last couple of weeks, I have spoken with many friends about the concept of happiness as it pertains to life’s pursuits, which has forced me to give thought to my past experiences and the reasons why happiness eluded me for so long in my life. The following is the sum of my thoughts.
Life is not about destinations. Or perhaps I should argue that a happy or satisfying life cannot be about destinations, because destinations are temporary at best and completely illusory in truth.
We have been taught that it is important to set goals, to aim for a destination, and to a limited extent, I agree. Where I struggle, however, is in the assumption, the programming that suggests the goal will bring happiness, that at your destination, you can rest.
For most of us, this sets up a couple of problems.
If we do not succeed in achieving our goal or reaching our destination, then not only have we failed, but more insidiously, we see ourselves as failures.
But even in those situations where we achieve our goal, arrive at our destination, we are faced with the daunting and disheartening revelation of “Now what?”
For despite the momentary glow of success, we cannot rest. We must seek the next goal, identify the next destination. And the cycle repeats, ensuring that for all but the rarest of us, we will fail, we are failures.
Part of the challenge is that for many people, the idea of a goal or destination presupposes that we are not sufficient in the now, that our lives are incomplete and would somehow be better over there.
We don’t make enough money. We are alone. We have not achieved the heights for which we are destined. We—as we are today—are not good enough.
It is good to push boundaries. It is good to strive.
And while those two statements may sound contradictory to the questions I raise above, to what I have decried, I don’t think they are.
Pushing. Striving. These are actions, not endpoints. And that makes all the difference in the world.
A goal or a destination, a predetermined endpoint, is fine, but only in so far as it gets you moving in a direction. After that, it is meaningless.
Life is in the movement. It is in the process. It is in the journey, regardless of where that journey takes you.
Destinations and goals give us opportunities to shift the direction of that journey, but they are not the point of or the reason for the journey.
We are like photons in the universe of our lives. Without movement, a photon has no mass. When we cease to move, we cease to exist.
It is our movement that gives us life, and our interactions during that journey that gives that life meaning.
Feel free to set a direction, but be prepared for and welcome the changes that come along the way, for it is in that journey that we will truly live and ultimately find happiness.
An example from my life:
Early in my writing career, I worked for a magazine in Washington, DC. Every year, my boss and I would set goals for the next 12 months; e.g., 3 features, 10 department articles, 20 short pieces. And being a little Type A, I would accomplish my benchmark within 3 months. At the end of the 12 months, I might have tripled or quadrupled the expected output.
I would demand a promotion, and I would be told no…there were apparently other factors not included in my annual goals before I could be promoted. This pissed me off.
But surprisingly, even when I received the promotion, it was not enough. I needed the next one. I set the goals and again, felt held back despite achieving the goals.
And very quickly, the job I loved, the job I practically ran toward every morning in anticipation, became a leaden weight. I ceased to write for the love of writing. I was miserable.
In hindsight, I can see now how much I learned on that job—not the least of which was “office politics”—but at the time, all I could see was failure. It was the journey that helped shaped the man I am today, not the endpoints. I might have been happier had I realized that then.
The following video is a rather clever summation of my thoughts. Thanks to my friend Agah for pointing me to it!
“I hear you,” she screams,
Her voice echoing in the silence
Of a disquieted mind.
Fists pound temples
As temptation reigns
In paper-wrapped glass.
The sins of a thousand years
Await release, gnawing
At the bars built
To keep the world out
And the furies within.
Breath rasps, the belly of the snake
Drawing sinewy strength
From the still-warm sands
Of memory and desire.
Head sags, body slumps,
Blood slows, anguish grows.
Write, Sisyphus, write.
(Images are property of owners, and are used here without permission…I heard you.)
Mounting tension, anxiety
Movement, lifting, listening
Heat, anger, accusation
Denial, response, anger
Profanity, wrath, threats
Pain, ire, disappointment
A slam, a sob
As you may have noticed, I like to take the mundane in life and move it in a whole new direction, exploring avenues that are not obvious at first blush.
Such was the case with a series of scenarios that I photographed recently in Alexandria, Virginia, and Washington, DC.