It sounds like a grouchy thing to say, but I’m uneasy with extended periods of happiness. Finding myself in a state of bliss is a little like finding myself flying in a plane with no pilot — I have to figure out a way to get back down to earth gently, because if gravity intervenes first, the crash will be ugly. I was the kid who reliably fell into a depression the day after Christmas every year, after all the anticipation and the warm holiday feelings were suddenly over and the rug was pulled out by reality. I have always been much more comfortable with states of enthusiastic contentment. But now that I’m older, I understand better how I’m wired, and can prepare for these things.
My wedding a little over a week ago was one of the happiest and blissed-out days of my life. The entire event felt like an avalanche of love pouring in from all sides, from our friends wishing us well over every imaginable medium, to our family members who had traveled long hours to be with us, to our friend Fred, who had devoted so much effort and care into officiating our ceremony. It didn’t really stop that day, either. My sister and brother-in-law, who decided to take the weekend to camp in the state park where the wedding was held, stopped at the park’s inn where Travis and I were staying and put a note on our windshield, wishing us a happy first full day of being hitched. By the time we left for our honeymoon trip, I was up in the plane, soaring way too high above the ground.
For the most part, our go-as-the-wind-blows trip was the perfect parachute. But by late in the week, Travis had eaten something grim on a buffet, and it was mounting a rebellion in his innards. We ended up confined to a hotel when we didn’t want to be. I wasn’t sleeping well, I couldn’t write anything, and I was bored that night. We both got a little grouchy, but especially me; the earth was coming at me rapidly from below, and I was cursing my moodiness. We considered just heading for home and, as I put it, “getting back to our regularly scheduled programming.” Instead, and wisely, we headed into Great Smoky Mountains National Park once he felt better, because we knew we would regret it later if we didn’t take all the time we had.
As we meandered through the park, Travis spotted something in the woods: a big black creature lumbering through the forest with two tiny, furry black munchkins trailing goofily along behind her. I’ve seen bears in the wild several times, but I’ve never seen brand new cubs. We both freaked out in the usual way people lose their shit when they see wildlife, and we spent several minutes watching the sow and her cubs jump from log to log into the forest. I grabbed for my iPad and took a Vine — that’s the one social media site my son and I are both on, and I wanted to share it with him. Halfway through the looping, 8-second video you can hear Travis cackling with glee at the little cubs. My parachute was open again, billowing against the blue sky.
We both looked at each other after the bears were gone, and he said what I was thinking. “I guess all it takes to improve any mood are two bear cubs.”
I don’t know exactly why a wildlife sighting so thoroughly cleansed me of my grouchiness, but it probably has something to do with the fact that nature takes me out of myself. My grouchiness is usually best cultivated in a bed of self-absorption, and it’s impossible to be self-absorbed in the presence of bear cubs. It is the very definition of a transcendent experience.
We saw another group of bears that day — they seemed as common as squirrels in those mountains — and I was deeply grateful that I hadn’t passed up the opportunity to have those experiences. The lesson: Always take the time you have. Sit with feelings instead of grasping to get rid of them. Trust nature. She won’t let you down.