I was standing down by the lake-edge, blinking back tears of goodbye and wishing this rich green Minnesota environment could be mine all the time. And then I turned and saw my toddler blowing a dandelion that had gone to seed, the magic of it as much in his eyes as in the wish he doesn’t know how to make yet. The almost-physical ache I had felt faded soft as the lapping lake water. I could be ok, with moments like this that slip in with unexpected happiness. I chased the boy around with my camera, instructing him to blow. Mom even grabbed him a new dandelion when the first one was out of seeds. I went inside with thoughts of dandelion hope echoing through the punchy grief of my goodbyes.
I have a tendency to let moments like this disappear into the humdrum of my days. When I curl up on the couch in the evening and my husband asks how my day was, these aren’t the things I think of first. My automatic response is to describe the lakeshore, the tears, the goodbyes, the ache I didn’t want to feel. And then I look forward to the next hard thing: I say words like, “And now we’re home and he’ll have to get used to not being the center of attention all the time; he’ll cry and hang on my legs, and ask for special treats like Larabars and his pacifier.” I forget the dandelion wishes until the very end: “There were a few good moments. Erik was so cute, blowing a dandelion with his lips all full and pursed. But I don’t know if I got any good pictures.”
I’d like to think we color our perspectives beginning with the best and happiest memories, but I don’t think it’s true. I felt joy just as strongly as pain but I focused on what was hard and hurtful instead of what was beautiful. It’s easy to do, honestly. Hard moments do make a strong impression on us. Hurt is real. Goodbyes suck. And just like that, the rain clouds that lasted for half-an-hour are all we can remember of our sunny days. It’s like a trick we help our own memories play. Like the movie Inside Out; let Sadness touch one memory and it all turns blue. No amount of scolding from Joy can stop the infectious touch spreading across a myriad of dandelion moments.
It feels like that’s an inevitable truth; the memories that sit strongest with you will color your whole day – maybe eventually your whole life. And what if your whole life, day by day, turns blue? But I don’t think that’s the whole picture, not quite.
I think we have a say in the process. I think we have a voice in the way these memories shape us – we give them some of their power and we can take some of it away. And maybe we’ll never be able to erase the hurting parts of our days. Goodbyes will always be painful, won’t they? But we don’t need to erase pain to feel joy. We just need to feel it, to really see it and honor it and give it the place it should have. And that might take some fighting.
I think we can turn our lives bright again in small but meaningful ways if we really pay attention. The deep, the real and the magnificent exist for each of us if we are willing to notice it and hold on. I can’t tell you how you will do this. There isn’t a prescription for joy because no two lives or circumstances are the same. No two people feel and capture and remember emotions the same way. Your dandelion wishes will look different from mine, even if you have a dandelion-blowing toddler trundling across the dewy grass, enchanting his aunts and grandma all together. But that said, I do have a few ideas.
- Write it down. Sit with your thoughts and memories at the end of a day or early the next morning and just scribble a few notes of the things that made you smile. Dandelion blowing. The airplane ride with a toddler that actually went really well. Dewy grass on my feet for one last morning, before we returned to dry Colorado. Let these things grow into a habit and you will begin to find the permeating ability of joy.
- Take pictures. Maybe only one in one hundred will be instagram worthy and honestly, isn’t that ok? Taking a photograph can help you remember. It may pop up in your memories, or maybe Google photos will throw it into a video for you. Or your mother will ask you for those photographs and years later you’ll find them tucked in a box or an album somewhere, and you’ll remember.
- Ponder. When you have those quiet seconds, the waiting seconds when you could pick up a phone and scroll, just review your own hours. Look for the beautiful things. It’s there, it’s waiting – just hunt through your own memories and dig them up. Color your days in the in-between seconds. And maybe when you find yourself lying in bed at night, you’ll realize that even with the goodbyes and the long travel and the way he cried all the long drive back from the airport, it was a day of dandelion moments.