How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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For Grandma

I’m choosing some flowers for my Grandma’s funeral.  I’m thinking of Grandma, and looking at photos of arrangements on a website.  None fit.  None are quite….Grandma.

Grandma loved flowers.  She loved vigorous colours; jubilant, tenacious, glorious, audacious.  The bolder the better.  She tolerated sophisticated subtlety, bowing to good taste, but a canary burst of daffodil would really do it for her, or a splurge of violet iris on a dim spring day.  These formulaic wreaths try their best – all good intention – but even the more colourful versions; carnations, iris, yellow roses, don’t have it.  They don’t push through with the sheer joy that pulled Grandma’s heart.  They don’t scream ‘I’m alive, just for a short while, and I’m glorious’, which is what she loved.

My Grandma loved life.  Loved people.  Not just with interest, but with care.  She knew the fragility of their souls and conditions.  She recognised dreams, and wrong turns.  She knew disappointment.  She witnessed mistakes.  Everyone she met, she would soon know.  Asking questions, being interested, caring.  My Grandma was special.

She saw her own failings more than most, and would sigh – just a little, and shake her head.  But she would laugh too.  Such a great laugh.  And brush the sadness away with the candour and the knowing and the sheer power of it all.  Until you were left with ‘these things happen, even though we try so hard.  It just is’.  All of us together, trying and noticing.  Being alive.  Being colourful.

I don’t believe you get to be 97 without loving life.  And she did.  She should have made 100.  At least.  And she would have, if she hadn’t done the ‘stupid thing’ and not waited for help getting to the bathroom, and lost her footing.  Because she was proud, and independent.  And not stupid at all, but just wanting to live her life.

So what wreath, what flowers, for the lady who wanted her funeral to be full of them?  Grandma, I looked at them all, and I picked one that had a hint of show, a touch of sobriety, a hint of natural colour and a generosity of spirit.  I chose one that I liked, genuinely, because I felt that was the best I could do for you.  To choose the one that felt right, even if it wasn’t quite you, and not quite exuberant enough. Because in the end you knew as I do, that we do the best we can.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly right.  We just try our best, and enjoy the colours.  All of them.

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Poetry in motion

 

 

 

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Remember the end of Thelma and Louise?  When they drove off the cliff?

It was gut-wrenching tragedy, understated glory, hand-on-heart, of-the-moment completion.  That final scene left them, and the viewer, suspended over a chasm.

There was no right way, but there was a way that felt right.  However hard.

 

I wouldn’t advocate anything quite as bleak (it still haunts me now).  I’m more of a Waltons girl;  give me an all-rounded happy ending any day, all cornfields and turquoise dragonflies.  But there’s nothing as achingly, hauntingly satisfying as a space, or an action, created in honour of a truth.

Truth might not be comfortable, like an episode of the Waltons.  But it lasts. It hangs in the air.  I’d be pushed to justify two women driving off a cliff, or even to explain how it was a fitting ending for a film. It wasn’t an ending.  It was an open space.

There aren’t many open spaces in our culture.  We have right actions and wrong actions.  Correct and incorrect answers.  We’re not comfortable with the unresolvable.  We don’t chew much.  We want an answer, and to be the first one with our hand up.  We even try hard to meditate correctly.

Perhaps that’s why Thelma and Louise resonated.  Because that space we were left with, that openness, left a big wide space where we could suspend what we think we know.  A space where our assumptions, our beliefs, our cause-and-effect, our moral high-ground, all got scattered about a bit.  A space for review.  For looking afresh.  For revisiting truth.

That’s a lot of long-winded thinking.  The Dalai Lama says something more simple here:

 

 

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But be prepared.  It can feel like this:

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