Friday, October 10, 2008

Nothing left to lose?

My cinderella story has taken a turn, but I learned years ago this nugget of wisdom:
If you can't be happy when you have nothing, you'll never know happiness no matter how much you have.

This knowledge came to me almost vision-like, one evening 26 years ago, as I was taking out the trash from the tiny two-bedroom trailer I was living in, with two of my three kids and a borrowed cat (to catch the brazen little mouse that had moved in from the Wyoming prairie to raid our supply of cereal and flour. Those days we were living on breakfast cereal and homemade sopapillas, as I was a twice-divorced mother of three, going to school full time and working (at one point) three part time jobs. No trust fund, no living parents, no alimony, no child support. We lived on my small paychecks, my tip money, my student loans.

For relaxation I took up skydiving, paying for my first jump course with a LEAP grant meant to pay utility bills. I guess we were a little cold that winter, I don't really remember. But skydiving was my religion. Stepping out of the door of an airplane at 11,000 feet above the ground, gives you a great appreciation for life, and what's important. At least, for me it did.

My life changed, for the better. I graduated with a degree in Nursing, I went to work, and I continued to skydive. I wrote articles and stories, and had some success getting them published. I met new people and made new friends, among them my future husband, RSR. I saw my three kids beginning to become good people with talents, interests and victories of their own.

Flash forward twenty years or so, I'm living the dream. My husband is well-off (OK, he's rich)and I'm writing and publishing, we're having the time of our lives. My kids are grown, have interesting careers, and kids of their own. I'm a grandma! We own two houses! We have a sailboat! We travel! Life is good! There are problems, yes. My grandchildren have medical issues, challenges. But we're seeing it through. It could be worse.

RSR's kidneys fail, my husband nearly dies. He goes on dialysis, fucking reality shock! Then, the transplant. (More on that, later.) Life restored.

Meanwhile, I'm taking the wealth for granted. Spending like there is no tomorrow. And bam, we didn't get out, we've seen our worth plummet, and like Cinderella I'm sweeping the floor again. But the prince is with me, so we'll see it through. It's been rags to riches, to rags. I'm hoping it'll cycle back again, but if not, we'll carry on. We'll live. (Skydiving taught me you can live deeply, intensely, you can live more than some people do their entire lives in one fifty second freefall.)

As I took out the trash that afternoon 26 years ago, it was sunset. The Wyoming sky was exhilarating with its color, its clarity; the chill wind in my face felt like the relative wind of freefall, and I was filled with an absurd, unexplainable joy. Joy for life. And that's when the knowledge filled me, as sure as God speaking. Happiness isn't something you earn or can save up. It's fleeting, but it's as real and as life-giving as the breath you take.

If you can be happy for fleeting moments when you have little, you have discovered the secret. It's yours, it's mine, it's ours for the taking and there is plenty enough for all.