Some things just never change.
My entire life I have loved spaghetti. I don’t just mean like-I mean love. It is a food without equal for me. I have never tired of it and I don’t think I ever will. I have to have it at least once a week, and twice a week is preferable.
I know that my love affair with spaghetti came from eating my grandmother’s spaghetti every Sunday when I was growing up. Spaghetti with red sauce. Sometimes rigatoni, occasionally fettucine. Always red sauce and always some kind of meat with the sauce.
When I was pregnant with Adam, my father brought me my grandmother’s spaghetti every week. It was in a Tupperware container and so packed to the brim with her spaghetti that it usually was enough for two meals. It was delicious, spicy and rich with pieces of chuck roast so tender they shredded when I touched them with my fork. A little Parmesan cheese on top and I was in heaven. It was an enormous amount of pasta and I devoured it– every week. Hence, my 50 pound weight gain.
My grandmother is no longer around to cook spaghetti for me so now I do it, for me and for my family. I started having Pasta Sunday for my family several years ago. Every Sunday evening, I cook pasta for them just like my grandmother used to cook pasta for me. It has taken me awhile but I have created some sauces which my family loves. I, however, cannot stop trying new sauces, tweaking the recipes I’ve created. My husband has told me to stop, to leave well enough alone. But I cannot. That perfect sauce is still out there, just a few spices, seasonings or techniques away. I have to find it.
This is the story of my life. If I find that elusive whatever, I’ll finally find happiness. True happiness. Not this “sometimes happy, often times discontented happy.” No, I’m looking for 100 % happy.
I’m so close. Just like I am with my perfect sauce. So close.
Yesterday, while driving alone to Goodwill, no children chattering in the seats behind me or shouting my name, I understood something. And, as always, I understood it not because I am brilliant. I understood it because of a story I heard on NPR.
I do not know the full story since I turned on the radio when the story was coming to its conclusion. But the conclusion was enough. I understood that it was a man’s story of a dream never reached, a dream destroyed early in life by a physical accident. The narrator of the story explained that the man now works a factory job, getting up very early each morning to drive an hour and a half to get to his job. He returns home late every night. His wife left him and his children two years ago so he is now raising his two children, ages 6 and 8. As the narrator spoke, I could hear the man and his children in the background, the sound of a television on, the children’s young voices asking their father questions about the game and players they were watching on the tv.
Then the man finished his story.
He told how happy he is. He told how hard life is but how good it is. He told how blessed he is that he gets to see his kids every single day.
And then he finished by saying “if I were to die tomorrow, it’d be okay because I would die a happy man. A truly happy man.”
Wow. That’s powerful.
Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for you to be happy. Happiness and perfection are not the same thing. Why have I equated them all these years? I don’t need one to have the other. How was this not obvious to me?
This man saw his dream of being a professional athlete shattered when he was a young man. Now he works at a manual labor job, probably never getting enough sleep, raising two young children on his own and facing the financial struggles that many Americans face.
Yet, this man could say with such assurance that he is happy.
And why? It isn’t fancy vacations, luxury yachts or a lavish mansion that account for his happiness.
What was it he said? Oh, yes– “I get to see my children every single day.”
That’s it? Yep, that’s it. So simple. The formula is so simple. Happiness doesn’t need all those distractions. True happiness doesn’t come from all those accessories. It comes from within. Loving those around you, feeling loved and appreciating those whom you love.
Everything I need to be happy is right here, right before me.
Why, then, do I continue to seek something more? What makes me feel like my happiness is just around the bend?
About three years ago my oldest son, Adam, decided to delete his Instagram account one morning as we were driving to school.
“There,” he said, “that’s done.”
“What?” I asked him. “What’s done?”
“I deleted my Instagram account. I got tired of feeling like a loser” he said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked him.
He turned and looked at me.
“I realized yesterday that Instagram makes me feel like my life is not as good as everyone else’s life. Everyone seems to be doing so much more, having so much more fun than me. I’m tired of it.”
And then he said something that I thought was quite wise for an 8th grade boy.
“And you know what, Mom? It’s all not true. What kids post, the pictures they share are not true, not really what their life is. It’s all fake.”
He was right. It’s all fake. And so much of what I seek is “all fake” and will not bring happiness.
The truth is that happiness is yours for the choosing. The man on NPR could have chosen bitterness, unhappiness, anger, resentment. But he didn’t. He chose happiness.
I, too, choose happiness. No more peeking around the corner for happiness. No more seeking that which is fake and will only make me look happy. Nope, happiness is here. Now. Right before me. In my young children’s laughter, in my older son’s wise actions, in my husband’s sweet smile, in that plate of pasta with the delicious red sauce on top made by yours truly.
Pass the Parmesan. Time to get living and time to get eating.