Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Precarious State of Happiness (Ferrell)

Sheltering-in-place has me thinking about home, and about happiness. 

Happiness worries me. Happiness is fleeting, a precarious state of being.

When I think about times I’ve been happy, I think about the years I lived near the Big Muddy River, in a black-mold-infested farmhouse with fifteen acres of pasture and a pond. I lived there with my then-small son, the best horse in the world, a couple other horses, and a German Shepherd. 

There were reasons to be unhappy then. But mostly I remember good things. My son’s attempts to fly using a superhero cape his grandma made him. The exercise I got chasing his wild throws as he learned to play t-ball. The horses grazing right outside my window at night. Sitting outside listening to the coyotes and stargazing.

It was a magical time, a happiness that was bound to end. 

I think I will remember this uncertain time of hanging fire in similar fashion. I feel that I will look back on this cold spring, this season of forced isolation and uncertainty, as a magic time. Enchanted, even.

Certainly time has lost its urgency. I have nowhere to be. There is a fairytale quality to my days. Time is passing, surely. Since corona-tine, spring has come. Days are longer, sunsets warmer and seen over trees in full leaf rather than over bare branches. Farmers are in their fields. The killdeer – and all the other birds – have returned. The nights are full of sound, owls and frogs and myriad meadow insects. But I’m not in the current of time, I’m caught in its eddy.

Staying here in the country in a house tucked into a little roll of hill between field and forest, with my life partner and a few animals, is easy. There is time for things, no need to rush through the individual moments of my day. 

I am fortunate to be working from home. I still have deadlines, sometimes Zoom meetings. But my 35-minute rural commute is down to a 3.5 second walk from one room to another. “Getting ready for work” means logging in. When I look out my window, I don’t see the campus quadrangle; I see my front yard. 

It’s nice. Peaceful. 

Yet every day feels like the calm before the storm, like a moment I must embrace before it is all ripped away, either by a fierce return to “normalcy” or by something else. 

Of course part of me welcomes the idea of “going back to normal.” It’ll be a relief to return to routine. And to spontaneity. To hearing live music and laughing with friends in the local dive bar, pub, or winery. To eating somewhere other than home or a car. To stopping at the grocery store without a tactical plan. To browsing in a real bookstore rather than scrolling, scrolling, gods always scrolling!

And part of me dreads it. And that part is telling me: Hold onto this. Be grateful.

I’m feeling something, as each day dawns with uncertainty and yet monotony, that I think I might call “peace.” Time to draw a breath. To enjoy small moments and little joys. Yet I can’t help looking to the horizon. There are clouds rolling in and I think I hear thunder.

Epiphany Ferrell lives and writes on the edge of the Shawnee Forest in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in Best Microfiction 2020, New Flash Fiction Review, Third Point Press and forthcoming in the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day anthology. She blogs intermittently for Ghost Parachute.

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