Yellow meant “friendship.” Red meant “love.” White meant “secret admirer.” Pink meant “passion.”
Oh I remember every little detail of the annual Valentine’s Day carnation sale at Rhea County High School and how it turned me into a miserable mess of a teenager each February….but I can’t for the life of me recall what Dan and I did for Valentine’s Day last year.
In fact, this morning it took me an entire cup of coffee and a scroll through my Google Reader to remember that today was the 14th. (I’ve been traveling a lot lately and am still a little unsure which time zone I’m in.) Our big plans? To splurge on a bottle of wine, make use of that Olive Garden gift card that’s been languishing in the mail pile, and spend an evening catching up on “Mad Men.” In fact, we’ll probably wait until later in the week to celebrate—when the crowds have thinned out and our Netflix envelope arrives. Dan and I are practical like that.
Back when I was single, I imagined that Valentine’s Day was the happiest day of the year for couples. I just assumed that they floated through the day in uninterrupted bliss, their hearts full of joy and peace, their lives as sweet and orderly as a box of Russell Stovers.
I figured I’d be happy once I joined their ranks.
Same goes for publishing. Back when I was an unpublished writer, I watched in envy as online friends nabbed book deals. I offered congratulations and emoticons with the same forced smile I gave the cheerleaders walking down the hall with a carnation of every color.
I figured I’d be happy once I too got “the call.”
And now I’m a published author with a wonderful husband and a burgeoning speaking career and I’ll I can do is hate poor Ann Voskamp for selling more copies of her memoir than I’ve sold of mine.
I figure I’ll be happy once I’m making a decent living at this, once I don’t have to worry how we’ll pay the bills, once I see my name in Amazon’s Top 100, once I’ve stopped doubting, once I’ve figured God out.
I’ll be happy once….
I suppose we’ve all got something with which to finish that sentence—even the richest, most successful, most put-together among us. We’re all waiting for happiness to come to us, for joy to arrive in a bouquet of flowers or letter of acceptance or little pink plus sign on a pregnancy test.
But every now and then I catch a glimpse of the surprising places where joy actually resides.
It happened one summer evening as Dan and I were driving home from my parents’ house a week or two after Evolving in Monkey Town released. I’d spent the evening whining about sales and publicity and an ever-growing to-do list, and as I rolled down the window to get some air, the sweet scent of honeysuckles rushed in with a cool breeze and filled the whole car. I inhaled deeply and in that moment felt about as happy as I’d felt in months. It suddenly occurred to me that these were the same honeysuckles that bloomed before my book released, the crickets that chirped before I received “the call,” the same bright moon that hung in the sky before I met Dan, before I graduated from college, before I got my first white carnation in high school.
“Who woulda thought that publishing a book wouldn’t make me happy?” I said to Dan after a long exhale. He looked at me from the driver’s seat, perhaps expecting tears.
“I’m not upset,” I said. “There’s something bizarrely liberating about achieving a life-long goal and not being satisfied by it. I’ve realized that happiness isn’t something I ever have to wait on. It’s been right here all along, waiting for me.”
While I’m thankful for Valentine’s Day and book deals and Amazon rankings for the motivation they provide, I think I’m finally getting the message that there’s no top rung in this ladder. Joy beckons at every stage, at every high and low, at every juncture, and in every failure. It resides not in the acceptance letter, but in the sound of the printer cranking out yet another draft, not in a bouquet of roses but in a midnight trip to the drug store for cold medicine, not in the new car or updated kitchen or week at the beach but in the realization that we don’t really need those things after all.
So what’s your current “I’ll be happy when….”?
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