To Bottle Up Some Happiness

It was about two months ago. I came to work really early in my exercise clothes and went out for a walk soon after my cup of coffee. Even now, as I attempt to reconstruct the feeling I had on that morning - of pure, reckless joy, a perfect abandonment of all negativity that so often permeates through and out of my body, the wind slapping me across the face, not harshly, but playfully, like a jab in response to a joke, not a rebuke, the tall weeds of the Matadero Creek Trail brushing against my legs making me only peripherally aware of the presence of critters or ticks around me - it's all completely diluted. It is not possible to capture everything I felt on that morning, the rush from being on my feet, walking up the trail with breathtaking views around me, as a reconstruction. Margaret Atwood says it best in The Handmaid's Tale, "It's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many."
What I can reconstruct with reasonable assurance that I am in fact describing the very heart of everything I felt that morning is in one simple, unassuming word: happiness. Two months later, I continue to sit at my desk every morning, enjoying my cup of dark roast coffee and my solitude. In the quiet lull of this office with glass walls and sharp white light, before footsteps and voices and keyboards begin to register on my consciousness, I try to conjure the feelings of that morning. I try to will myself to wear my hiking shoes, rise from my desk, feel the breeze of the peninsula before this summer's solstice, but all I get in return from myself is a rigid kind of complacency. Sitting still in this stillness is oddly satisfying, but it never evokes the unadulterated happiness I felt on the trail. Yet, I stay here, morning after morning, simply thinking about happiness and not actually doing anything to feel it again. 

If only there were a way to bottle up happiness. Then I would grab some from the air, pluck small droplets of it, gingerly, and pour them in a bottle. I would take a whiff of it every morning or drink it like Harry's Felix Felicis for luck. And then I would go out on the trail again, fueled by this happiness - a gold elixir, the consistency of molten metal - to collect more, always, always, more, more, more. I would have all kinds of bottles containing all kinds of happiness then. The happiness of walking barefoot on a beach at Half Moon Bay, far enough from the icy water of the Pacific that it doesn't touch my feet, but close enough to smell the ocean. The happiness of jasmines blooming on ordinary streets of Lahore, full-mouthed, drooping, their fragrance almost tangible. The happiness of the cool stone floors of the Lahore Fort and that of taking my shoes off and feeling it strong and stoic under my feet. The happiness of running across the roof-top in fierce monsoon downpours in the summers of my childhood and that of eating sliced oranges on the same roof-top on dry, sunny winter afternoons. The happiness of looking at the Golden Gate Bridge from a distance, the topmost spires hiding behind floating clouds that sometimes look like scattered petals of a jasmine plucked from Lahore. The happiness of having looked at the Badshahi mosque, no clouds covering its minarets, but majestic all the same. The happiness of my baby's untamed giggle and mother's startling poetry. The happiness of holding a fountain pen for the first time in Class 4B and graduating from using lead pencils. The happiness of walking on stage after working harder than ever before in my life, in my cap and gown, and graduating from UC Davis. The happiness of new, forbidden, precocious love in the corridors of high-ceilinged houses in Lahore. The happiness of old, trusting, giving love in the look exchanged over my glass-top dining table in San Jose surrounded by people yet solitary in the confines of this moment. The happiness of having true, lasting friendships on both sides of an ocean. The happiness of being a hybrid, of being here and there, of loving California and Lahore, of belonging to both places in some ways, and belonging nowhere in others, of being a mother and a daughter, of endless possibilities. And of the ability to choose.

If only there were a way, I would bottle it all up to remind myself on the bleakest of days that even when I write in one of my poems, "I am not made of permanence," that is a certain kind of happiness, too. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue