A lot of people do life like a movie. You know how it is when two characters come together, and then a conflict arises, and they separate, or they fight, or there’s a misunderstanding, and then some other event pushes the story forward and there’s a shift, and maybe the two people come back together and we have our “happy ending”, and then the credits roll? Like, they get married, and ride off into the proverbial sunset?
Really, in life, that’s the beginning of the story, not the end, but a lot of people think that way. If I just meet the right person, I’ll be happy. The end. If I just graduate from a good school and get a great job, I’ll be happy. The end. If I just buy a big house and have a few kids, I’ll be happy. The end. Did you ever see those National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, where the Griswolds head to Walley World, and have this insane journey to get there, only to find that it’s closed when they arrive? Or the one where they head to the Grand Canyon, and are so furious and frazzled and exhausted when they get there, they look for two seconds and go? This is pretty much what happens when we get so caught up in our destination, we forget to enjoy, or even take in, the experience of traveling and connecting and observing and being, and when we finally get to wherever it is we’ve been going, we don’t really know what to do.
The chapters are always unfolding. If you think the happy ending begins when you say “I do”, you’re forgetting that a relationship is a living, breathing, entity that needs to be fed or it will die. So many people get wedding fever, and then they experience marital depression the day after the big event. Or kids work like crazy to get into a good college, and are burnt out by the time they get there and end up partying for four years. Maybe the graduation day from said college is exuberant, the key-note speech is poignant, but the year after is like ice-water in the face. Often, the way we’ve envisioned something is not the way it turns out to be, and when reality fails to meet our expectations, we freeze, or we numb, or we panic or we internalize the experience. We think it must be just us flailing and floundering around, confused and surprised and, weirdly, unprepared, because college doesn’t really give us the tools for life, any more than dating prepares us for marriage, or pregnancy prepares us for that first year of motherhood. Most of the biggest, most dramatic changes in our lives require on the job training. We learn as we go, and there isn’t a lot of time to process our inexperience or fear or surprise.
Life is not waiting for any of us. It’s happening right here, right now, and we are in the flow, or we’re out of it, but the flow doesn’t stop and it doesn’t care if it’s meeting your expectations or mine. I think there are some life skills it would be smart for us to teach, like how to balance a check book. Just practical, necessary stuff. How to create a budget. How to be a good partner. How to listen, and how to communicate with kindness and compassion. How to recognize the voice of your intuition. How to nap with your baby when you have a newborn. How to ask for help when you need it. It would be great if these things were taught at home. The other night I took my kids to see “Into the Woods”. It turns the classic fairytales on their heads. They loved it, and I enjoyed it, except for the part where (spoiler alert!) Prince Charming cheats on Cinderella with the Baker’s Wife. And the Baker’s Wife, it should also be noted, cheats on the Baker, who happens to be caring for their newborn at the time. Anyway, I talked to my kids about this after the movie. I told them I wanted to be sure they understood it’s not cool or okay to be kissing other people when you have a husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. They assured me that they knew this, and my daughter, who’s five, then said, “Don’t worry about it, Mommy. You can’t find a real prince in this world, anyway.”
Of course, she meant we don’t have royalty in our country, but I thought it was pretty hilarious, and I told her that, actually, you can find a real prince in this world, but you have to look carefully, and that people show you who they are by what they do. Anyway, I don’t get it right in every moment, or anything, but my point is, a lot of this stuff does have to happen at home. We can’t hope our kids’ teachers are going to take care of the difficult or awkward conversations, or that they’re going to teach our kids to be compassionate and kind and fully present. Many of them do. Many of our teachers are absolute godsends. I’m just saying, none of us can afford to shirk our responsibility when it comes to creating a generation of people who, hopefully, do it better than we have so far.
I really do feel there’s a shift happening. I think a tremendous number of people are recognizing the old formulas we were sold and taught just don’t pan out. They don’t lead to that happy ending. I think a lot of people are hip to the fact that nothing external brings long-term peace and fulfillment. We all have to work for that, we have to dig for it. But just in case anyone reading this is still thinking that happiness is something you chase, I figured I’d go ahead and turn that fairytale inside out. We are always in process. We are always changing, and so is everything around us. If you want a happy ending, you really have to figure out how to live each day well. Then the days will end well, and so will the weeks and months and years, and one day, hopefully one day way out ahead of us, the happy ending will come because life has been so full of love.
Wishing that for you,