“So,” she asked, “are you always happy?”
I looked confused and so she pressed on.
“It just seems like you are positive and confident and happy every single day. And is that how it is for you?” She asked.
It was the last day of class, and, somehow, we had gotten to this question.
Oh, wait, I remember how we got to that point. I had just said something along the lines of how self-acceptance is a journey. You likely won’t get to just park it in self-acceptance and never have to think about it again. Things will happen. It could be as simple as a zit on the tip of your nose, a bad hair day, a prescription of steroids to knock out that sinus infection that drastically changes the shape of your face. It could be aging or illness or a car accident. So much can and will happen. So you will have to use the tools in your tool kit to always insure you are okay. But the good news is that once you get to self-acceptance once, it is easier to get back there. It’s like riding a bike. You fall off or wobble but you can jump right back on, if you decide to, because there is muscle memory. And so it comes down to that “if you decide to” because here is the thing about being happy and self-accepting: once you deal with your stuff, once you have the right tools in the tool kit– and, let’s be honest, not every tool kit looks the same- then it becomes easier to revert to or update the tool kit when you need to because you have seen it work before.
And, so, when I answered my student, I was consciously aware that the premise of my answer really came from that “deciding to.” I’ve been to the place where a bad day happens just because I woke up late. And I know that I don’t ever want to go back there again because it is disproportionate, it is punishing, it is not even real. That ten minutes late or 60 minutes late isn’t enough to label a 24 hours bad. I also know that a bad day doesn’t come packaged in leaving the house when the painters arrive and coming home after they are done to learn that, Holy Cow, you really don’t like the color you picked at all (yes, that happened to me last week). Nor does a bad day come packaged in my hair or not having the “right” outfit for my body or the “right” body for my outfit.
It is not so much that I am happy (I am not unhappy either, its just that I think another word might better describe me than happy) as it is that I think I am at a place of personal peace, satisfied that I have mostly done right by myself and that in the ways that I haven’t, I am trying. And that it is the trying that matters. It is the journey that is the goal.
A bad day, I have learned, is going with your mom to see your dad in the hospital after a routine surgery and, while you are driving to the hospital, he goes into respiratory arrest without you knowing it so that when you arrive at the hospital, the unassuming greeter directs you to ICU and, there, you find your dad, the dad you had just kissed good night the night before as he was going to get some rest post-surgery, in a medically induced coma with a tube holding his throat open.
A bad day is your child being hospitalized or your best friend facing a diagnosis that catches in your throat. I guess I’ve lived enough now to realize this, to have this perspective. Maybe this, actually, is why women in their thirties speak about their happiness and confidence, because they’ve lived enough life at this point to know that their heel breaking en route to the interview is a funny story, not a bad day. Their parents are old enough or they have kids or whatever and so the intensity of how much there is to lose is so much more apparent and so a bad day can’t really ever go back to being getting a run in your tights, because now your life periodically- fortunately, not everyday like you once thought those smaller things did- hands you the real bad days.
And so I told my students that bad things happen to me– small bad things like waking up late or the house getting painted the wrong color or trees smashing down on our house over and over again within the matter of days– but I now know those are just moments. They add up to nothing at all, just funny or poignant stories or inconveniences but, really, nothing more. My imperfect outfit, imperfect hair, imperfect whatever aren’t imperfect at all, they are just that day’s flavor and I am not imperfect, because perfect is such an incredible fallacy that imperfect is, too. Just like the broken plate, the smashed windshield, the ruined silk blouse, the disagreement with your mom. That is all just texture. And what I’ve figured out with self-acceptance is that texture enhances, not diminishes. And so I welcome it, knowing it will make me better. And I don’t let it amount to a bad day, I don’t let it thwart my happy, if you will, or, more precisely, my peace.
There will be days where I will be crushed again. Walking into that hospital room will be a metaphor for other moments in my life. And I will hope that I can rise up to meet them. Maybe I will be able to or maybe I will actually hide under the sheets and cry for it to go away (this is what I kept wishing I could do while we kept vigil at the hospital when my dad was in that coma), who knows. But here is what I do know. I will not let the little things snuff out my peace. Not my body, not my hair, not a bad paint job. And as I looked out at my students’ bright eyes, I prayed that I had done enough so that they won’t either.