And you can for a little while, but then you get tired and you want to go away. “I want a life of my own,” you say. “I want a chance to make myself happy. Or at least try to make new sad people less sad.”
You think in your logical American mind that sadness is a negative experience, and therefore the people who are sad must want it to end, and therefore all they need is someone to show them that they are capable of unceasing happiness, and all you have to do is show them that you can be that way and then they will, of course logically, follow suit.
And then they won’t be sad ever again, and then you can leave them and say,
smiling, “See! That wasn’t so hard was it?! Isn’t this life better?” And they embrace you and say “Thank you, and we’re sorry that we took up so much of your time.” And then you say “No, not at all. It was my pleasure.” And you close the door behind you, and outside the sun is shining through red and brown leaves, and you inhale, and a tickle of elation is in your throat because you succeeded and now you’re free.
But it turns out that you have misunderstood.
Because the sadness isn’t something inside of them, like a virus or a baby. They are inside of it. It is the air and water and food, the songs and the sunshine and the wiggly worms. It was naive of you to imagine that smiles and dances could transport you. Do you think you are bigger than air and water and food, songs and sunshine and wiggly worms?
And yet all you want is freedom from the sadness that is older than worms, and the only way you know - you think, you are convinced - that you can have it without the sense of cancerous failure is if you teach them to see the world the way you do.
“Look at the butterflies and hummingbirds,
cookies shaped like poodles,
tiny crustaceans that look prehistoric,
the way grass feels,
kissing soft fat cheeks,
the jagged teeth of infants,
peanut butter with chocolate,
looking closely in the mirror at the flecks in your brown eyes,
painted finger nails,
lighting birthday candles,
feeling your freshly shaved leg,
the bounce of breasts,
the way it feels when you open the window and the air blows on your sweaty neck,
scratching that dry patch of skin near your vulva.
What about that? Why isn’t that enough?
Why settle for me when you can have all that?”
According to this book I read about being Mexican, sadness and suffering are cornerstones of Mexican existence. This Mexican lady with green eyes who left crumbs in my bed told me once that Mexican women suffer because it makes them more lady like. “Suffering is the ultimate in femininity.”
Mexican women die for a very, very long time. 20 or 30 or sometimes 40 years. I guess maybe in the US this might be called anxiety or obsessive behavior or depression. These Mexican women who die for 40 years don’t care what it’s called here. It’s just called life as far as they’re concerned.
The manically happy child of American psyche looks at this Mexican woman who dies for 40 years and thinks “I can be a hero, just like all the best people in the world are.”
I sit in my grief session and the blue-eyed counselor asks me if I miss my grandfather.
“The problem is,” I tell her, “I’ve been mourning him for so long, I don’t even know exactly how his death is particularly different from his life.”