Monday, March 09, 2015


I heard this poem on NPR today -- it's called Happiness and it's by Jane Kenyon. Maybe you heard it too?

There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                    It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

So beautiful...

*   *   *

For some reason, I remembered today a seminar I took as a graduate student in Chicago some forty years ago. There were weekly speakers -- guest authors of very famous published works. One student (we took turns) had to open the discussion each week by giving a review of the work. When it was my turn, I wrote my review and presented it with great excitement. I thought I had nailed all the weak points in the written argument. I saw the flaws, the problems. I was so pumped! I was standing up for scholarship, for accuracy! I read my review in class. The author was there. He listened. I finished, looking up with pride at my own brilliance. I had won, no?

The author sighed deeply. He then said, ever so briefly: wow, harsh words.

Perhaps Ocean, which tries to stray from harsh words is the indirect outcrop of that experience.

*   *   *

Back to the poem: go ahead. Dare me not to be happy. Just know that in the long run, you'll surely lose the dare.

It was a beautiful day. A warm, spring-filled day. As usual, we have the spring flock of deer pass through...


I let it go. There isn't much that they can destroy right now. (I hope.)

Breakfast. Sun room. A joy.


And eventually, I'm in Snowdrop's home, where I find mom and daughter at play.


I am semi helpful in giving my daughter time for chores. Yes, I play with Snowdrop. Yes, her mom stuffs some loads into the washing machine. But then, all three of us are raring to go and taste that spring air. And so on goes the sweater (who remembers it? Yes! It's from the Arles knitting shop), and the cap purchased just today by grandma (because yesterday's was too large, in case you missed it).


She's ready. We're ready. And so my daughter pushes the stroller and I tag along and it is a deliriously wonderful hike around the small lake. Just over an hour of pleasure, for all three of us.


When you bring Snowdrop home from a walk and you take off her outdoor gear, you see in her that look of relief. As in -- I had fun, but I was a little scared that no good would come of it and now, here I am home and I am so happy about that!


Oh, Snowdrop!


  1. Wouldn't take your happiness from you for all the tea in China, Nina. I know what it's like to be without happiness for a long time, and to finally be getting it back. I cherish it.

    Little Snowdrop looks like she gets overwhelmed by the outside, for now. After all, it's so BIG, and COLD, and BRIGHT, and she has to be wrapped up in uncomfortable clothes. I think maybe she'll enjoy the outdoors a great deal more when it's warmer out and the restricting clothes aren't necessary.

    1. Oh, she already enjoys the walks! The last two were an hour long and she seemed so content to let the breeze touch her face and the rough sidewalk give a jiggle to her ride.But she is also happy to be unbundled at the end of it all!

  2. Writers Almanac is a great start to the day, isn't it!

    Perfect time for warmth to move in, just when Snowdrop seems to have figured out the indoors... so now the world expands. Wonder if some of her first words will be cat, dog, squirrel, crow, deer....

    1. Yes, it's true. The outdoors is completely new to her. You're absolutely right -- it's like being plunged into a whole new world all over again...

  3. Yes, Ocean is your Happy Place. Did you begin it long ago in a conscious way, determined to focus on the parts of your day that were good? To preserve and cherish? Do you ever go back to earlier Ocean posts, to savor? Or for comfort?

    I've told you I do a little "mind Ocean" at the end of the day as I'm falling asleep. I never get very far before I'm out!

    I liked Jane Kenyon's poem although I didn't understand the last stanza. Poetic license? Pleasing imagery, though.

    How dear you are to remember something from forty years ago, when you didn't intend to be harsh. What a positive approach you've taken with Ocean. We all have some moment(s) in the past we'd rather have changed...the best we can do is to live right, treat others right, in the present. It's clear you've been this good person, Nina, the kind of person that the law students voted to be their commencement speaker last year.

    1. There's so much to respond to here! I'll try not to over-write my answer.

      I suppose Ocean evolved and the most noticeable leap into the modern incarnation came 9.5 years ago, at the time of my divorce. It was a difficult period for everyone and for several weeks I jumped out of character and wrote as a (pretend) guest writer (that was in June 05) because I found it too difficult to write as myself: how could I be lighthearted here when there was so much drama in the air? So for a while I was lighthearted through the words of someone else, even though it was me all along.

      Ed came along soon after (October 05) and he freed me to go through each day without apology and to work with enthusiasm at projects that mattered to me, even if they appeared bizarre to others (Ocean writing and travel are but the obvious ones). That's a short answer to the how and the when. I should say that I also learned from commenters: I love it when we come to the table with the same attitude of caring and concern. A common search for peace and tranquility -- yes, Ocean opens the doors for that.

      The incident from forty years ago -- well, I wish I could say that I did not intend to be harsh. I never even noticed that I WAS harsh until I saw how my brilliant exposition of the writer's flaws hurt him. I am even now reminded of a scene from the movie "Chef," when the chef faces his reviewer and in a fit of emotion, explains how much it hurts to endure someone's witty little snipes and cleverly drawn out expositions of a flaw.

      There are days (yesterday?) when you need to remind yourself that happiness will beat down a path to your door, even though you can't imagine how that might be. Me, I'm lucky to have my girl, my grandgirl, and my breakfast buddy close by. They make it pretty easy to believe in the words of that poem.

  4. I marvel that you are the type of person who can find happiness in everything… things like watching a celestial swirl of dust motes glittering in a sunlit room. I marvel that you do that every day.

    I have those moments every day, too, with the awe of discovery in ordinary moments that give me extraordinary pleasure.

    I’m also apt to share my disappointments or cranky observations, but I always, always, always try to bring closure to a post with complete gratitude for the day and the extreme privilege of my hours, which are chubby with goodness.

    You inspire.

    I hope I'm wrong in sensing someone *criticized* your happiness? Ignore them if this is true. Unhappy people have trouble being happy for happy people. *laughing*

    Over the years I've watched and written about documentaries about Happiness. The common thread has been simplicity and gratitude - and connecting with people/family. I've written about the winter I rented a room in Nashville in order to be close to Vanderbilt to immerse myself proactively in everything possible regarding my illness. My room was simple. Most the furniture was made of particleboard. There was a stuffed chair with the stuffing oozing from its arms. The walls were naked. It was quite plain and barren. Oddly, it was the happiest winter of my entire life. I thought while I was living in Nashville I'd shop and dine and explore, but didn't. I couldn't wait to get back to my simple, unadorned room. It was 5 contiguous months of happiness. I have yet to figure out why except for the important observation that *things* do not make us happy. I lived in uncomplicated simplicity with a terminal illness - and was happy.

    Cranky, crummy things still happen, but clarity often triumphs and I choose happiness.

    1. Irene, inspiration flows from *you*!

      This time, the criticism wasn't of my happiness. It was of me. Stinging and intended, though I'm sure the person thought his argument was very clever. Winning. Just like forty years ago I thought I had *won.*

      I think it's good to face your grumpiness, sadness, crankiness. I think your approach is pretty much an ideal: face it and move on. I just can't do it. I am, from early childhood, a person who runs away from problems, sadness, issues. I stubbornly cling to happiness. I've not been around a lot of happy people in my life. Perhaps I feel I'm forging new territory for myself! :)

      I love your description of that time in your room. It really gave me a moment of peace and tranquility. Just lovely.

    2. Such an admirable and uplifting post, Irene!

      I grinned at "chubby with goodness". I hope I'll remember that to make me smile another day!

  5. I stumbled across our words here this morning - I'm looking for a specific post that I want to reference in one of my own posts.

    Thanks so much Nina. Please know and own the fact that your positivity touches more lives than you will ever realize. I'm so sorry stinging words were hurled at you. Pooh! As in so many times in life, the silent majority doesn't step forward often enough and that's probably true here. I gobble-up your positivity. You are positively a breath of goodness that I gobble-up each day.

    Thanks JoyD. Nina's community of friends like you anoint my days with gratitude. Love.


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