Three writers and the story behind their happiest moments
Keep those tissues handy
I went to sleep after the rain started falling in the afternoon, and when I woke up there was a message on my phone from a woman I had only recently met. A striking young woman, an architect; I had met her partner too, and now reading the message I realised, even in my half-sleep, that this message was for him. I looked outside the window and imagined lightning. Love is a beautiful thing and I was happy for the man the woman was writing to with such yearning and such abandon. “The same thoughts, the same demands surface,” she had written, “during work and between tasks. I miss you, I want you, I’m sorry.” When I read those words I was like someone watching a film in which when the lovers kiss everything becomes alright with the world. I was also thinking of the times in the distant past when I had sent such messages or been lucky enough to receive them. “You didn’t mean to make me happy,” I wrote back, “but thank you for this mistake. Briefly, I was in love again and, as it often does, I felt I was in love for the first time.”
Every morning, I wake up before dawn. Indigo strips of sky seep through the window blinds as my husband and I pack backpacks, press shirts, and make breakfast. An hour later, my daughter’s eyes snap open, and she joins us, usually midstory or mid-song. Somehow, in the next two hours, my husband gets himself to work, I get my daughter to school, and then I get myself home. In the empty apartment, echoes of my family’s joyful chaos hang in the warm, wild air. But although my daughter’s construction paper collages cling to the walls, and my husband’s handwriting spiders up the whiteboard, I am the only one here. When I was young, I thought families were pre-assembled things, groups of people that came together fully formed. Now, I understand that families are works in progress, structures that must be sculpted, adjusted, built. My husband and I chose each other, and then we chose my daughter. Together, the three of us have broken cycles of poverty, violence, and abuse. Together, we have built a new reality. Together, we have made each other home. Sometimes, I forget the miracle that is the three of us. But in my solitude, I have the space to remember, and this remembering is the happiest moment of my day.
It would be understandable if I said that the birth of my son, and only child, in 1992, was my happiest moment. It wouldn’t be true, though. I don’t believe it of anyone, in fact, that the joy of that human experience (which is joyous, of course) is in any way so pure, so unalloyed as to be the moment, even though I’ve heard many times that it is. For my money, people who say that moment is their happiest are acquiescing to their own excessive and pathetic tenderheartedness. Leo Tolstoy had it right. In Anna Karenina, his hero, Levin, on first seeing his firstborn, realises that the universe has found a way to hurt him worse than he could ever have been hurt before. Every parent knows exactly what he means.
I lived for five years in the late 1970s and early 1980s on the central Oregon coast. I made my living in that beautiful and rigorous land as a commercial fisherman, a fish buyer, and in various other occupations available in a rural fishing and logging economy. Living so close to nature, deriving not only my sustenance but food for my imagination from it, I was as happy as I’ve ever been. I remember particularly a winter sunset on a beach at the mouth of Yaquina Bay. The sunset was spectacular, but it wasn’t just the sunset—spectacular sunsets are commonplace on that coast—that made the moment unique. The sea was at low tide, the lowest it had been in the year. I went to the beach to see how far the tide had gone out. I walked and walked, astonished at how dramatically the Pacific Ocean had retreated into itself. Under the influence of the setting sun, I was having inconceivable thoughts, imaginings, visions of being. I walked and walked toward the receding waters. I felt as if I were walking into the firmament itself.
All photographs: Instagram