Monday, June 22, 2009

"If this isn't nice, what is?"

“What Uncle Alex found particularly objectionable about human beings in general was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy.

He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

I myself say that out loud at times of easy, natural bliss: “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Perhaps others can also make use of that heirloom from Uncle Alex. I find it really cheers me up to keep score out loud that way.”

- Kurt Vonnegut from God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian

I had the pleasure of spending the last few days in Monterey with my dad, stepmom and siblings. It was a bit of a reunion as it had been a long time since we've all been together. I forgot to bring a book so I picked up one of my sister's- God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut... which is where I discovered the above passage.

It really hung with me, perhaps because it so aptly put to words what I've been experiencing throughout the last year. Happiness isn't about perfection or being happy all the time. It's about moments, and noticing it when it's there.

Last week Bob and I were driving somewhere, I don't remember where, when he suddenly remarked, "Trees are amazing!" The awe and enthusiasm in his exclamation instantly put me in a better mood. We were at a stop light and he was looking out the window at a tree and it struck him: "Trees are amazing!" It was a "If this isn't nice, what is" moment. And I was happy that Bob, who has been so busy working so hard, took the moment to, as Vonnegut says, "keep score out loud."

It's like this. Here we are in the final week of life as we've known it for 2 and half years in our house on the hill in Silver Lake. Nothing has gone as we planned. We've lost more money than we could have imagined. Made so many mistakes as to be up to our eye balls in debt. We're heading back to the Midwest to move in to my mom and stepdad's basement and in the face of all of this, we are happy.

I've said before it's a declaration. I think that Vonnegut's words help explain it. It's not some place or state of mind at which to arrive. It's about experiencing it when it's there.

Like this, for example:

It's 10:30 PM, I'm sick, I really don't want to do this and my only response is to cry. This. 'This' is packing up the house. Going through our food, toiletries and medicine- tossing the old and sorting the new. Some to the food bank others we carry with us. How is it possible for so much to exist in one tiny bathroom cabinet? Seriously. I can't do this. I don't want to. I don't want to clear out our house. I don't want to leave. I just want it to be over.

Bob holds me. This is a relief. I cry more. He says he understands. Gives a pep talk. We're almost there. We can do it. But there's so much stuff! How? One thing at a time.

Tomorrow they are tenting the house for termites. They will be flushing Vikane gas into every nook and cranny in the house and doing battle with those little wood chompers. This is why we're moving it all out tonight. Because even though they say it's fine for your clothes to be in the house and fumigated with this gas, we don't really feel comfortable with that.

But it's late. And I seem to have contracted the same sickness that plagued Bob during our estate sale. My eyes burn. My throat is on fire. My sinuses are being squeezed together in a vice (or so it feels.) I'm trying not to be sad. Just keeping on. This is it. It's finally hitting me. This is the end. One final week. And it will all be over. For a moment the house will be completely empty. No more inhabitants. Not us, not the termites. Empty. Then... new owners move in and we'll be well on our way to what's next and what is sure to be a catharsis.

Bob suggests we go to our friends' house tonight and come back in the morning for the clothes. I'm all for that. I just want out. Away from the mess. From the in-your-face-ness of our reality.

We arrive at our friends' bungalow a few miles away. (They're out of town and have graciously offered their haven.) We make it inside and the tiredness just washes over me. But we made it. And it's cozy in here. I'm so sick, but I feel good. I feel safe. It occurs to me that I can feel this way anywhere, under any circumstances. I take some Sudafed and crawl into bed. Bob spoons me. And I think, "If this isn't nice, what is?"

Our house in battle gear:

3 things:

1. Discovered Soul Pancake today thanks to Twitter. Today's Big Question fits nicely with this topic:

Is our misguided pursuit of happiness the source of our misery? - Soul Pancake

2. We feel such gratitude for all the support we're receiving from the wonderful people in our lives. We cannot thank you enough. But we'll try. To start, we thank the wonderful people who helped us yesterday in various and amazing ways:
Jeff & Nikki, Porter, Brian, Cece, Chris & Regan

3. And lastly, we'd love to hear your "If this isn't nice, what is?" moments! So please share them in the comment section below. Thank you! We look forward to reading.


Kim Hooper said...

What a beautiful post. I love this idea, mostly because I have a hard time staying grateful in the little moments. I've had moments like Bob's "Trees are amazing!" moment though. I think that about the sky a lot.
Thanks for this...

Holly said...

I'm reading this book by Patti Digh called "Life is a Verb." It's a collection of personal stories all designed to help put life's frustrations into perspective. Like the Vonnegut quote above, they're simple and deep insights (paired with some cool artwork to serve as a visual cue) that really stick with you. I highly recommend the book--but equally good (and more affordable!) is her website: (She's on Twitter, too.)

Here in Boston, it has been raining practically every day for the last month and a half. Everywhere you turn, people are complaining. Me? I'm kind of digging it. Never have I seen things so lush and green. My little garden is getting a big drink and all the birds in town have taken to singing and feasting in my backyard. Snug inside, I can stand at the window and take it all in. If this isn't nice, what is?

AsKatKnits said...

I was catching up on your blog and it is an excellent reminder to look beyond your circumstances to find the good that is all around us in our lives!

And, scrolling through the photos of your sale, imagine my surprise to find some yarn being knit into some lovely item!

Here is my advice - when I thought I was most certainly going to lose my mind in the chaos of life, I picked up my pointy sticks and knit. The task of quietly knitting the stitches that lay before me on my needles allowed me to calm myself. Finding that inner calm that had been smothered by an at times overwhelming life freed my mind to see a different pathway that was refreshing and new!

Thanks for sharing such beautiful reflections with us all!

Love in the Time of Foreclosure said...

The sky, the rain and knitting...

It's funny, Askatknits, I did sell some of my yarn and needles because I hadn't used them in so long. But you've got me thinking slightly differently. I could knit a scarf (the only thing I'm capable of knitting) on the drive from L.A. to Chicago.


Jessica said...

Excellent quote! That's a keeper.

Most of my moments like that usually deal with my children and husband. Just hanging out, playing, enjoying time together. As long as no one is misbehaving or having some form of fit or meltdown, I have lots of "If this isn't nice, what is?" moments.

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