A few days ago it was International Day of Happiness. I cannot believe I’ve been alive for twenty-five years and missed twenty- five International Happiness Days. On the way out of the gym a tiny woman wearing a lemon lime spandex suit gave me a postcard that said:
Today is International Day of Happiness! Let everyone know by taking pictures of happy things with the hashtag:
All I could say was “aww happy acts, that’s cute,” but the woman’s face lit up, and that combined with her lemon lime glow made her look not of this Earth, like a strange creature from an unexplored and unknown world deep in the depths of the ocean. “Hashtag it,” she instructed and left. I handed the card to my co-worker who asked me what a hashtag was. “I’m in my late thirites,” she explained. “Hashtags, you know, like someone will upload a picture they took of themselves onto some social networking site and hashtag it #sorrynotsorry.” She stared at me blankly. “Sorry not-what?” I suddenly realized I had never really given this hashtag any serious thought before. “Sorry not sorry. It’s like..well it’s like saying sorry… for making you look at my face but I’m not sorry… for making you look at my face…” We both stood there in a fog when a man approached the front desk. “Good morning!” my co-worker greeted him and then added, “Happy International Day of Happiness!” This man looked like a man who frequently gets described by bartenders as crotchety and he stood there staring at my beaming co-worker blankly. “I am not happy,” he told her flatly. Her smile disappeared and he just stood there, both of them glaring at each other. “I have a collection of people whose pictures I just step on, dance on even, I hate them so much.” It could have just been my imagination but I’m pretty sure the sun vanished and we were enveloped in darkness just then. I began to laugh. I couldn’t stop. I was imagining myself holding hands with this Eeyore and dancing on top of pictures of people we hate while a third party would snap our photo and I would upload it to Instagram with the hashtags #happyacts and #sorrynotsorry. I then thought about whose faces I would like to dance on- Hitler absolutely, the Jack and the Box man, a hotel concierge who was very rude to me once, and most likely the entire clan of Kardashians. I was laughing so hard that this grumpy man actually smiled. “Well I’m glad I made you laugh, maybe I will have a happy day,” he told me and went on his way.
My co-worker and I then fell back into the conversation we were having before hashtags and hatred were brought up- money. “The front desk at The Four Seasons makes fifteen dollars an hour,” she was telling me, “You should apply.” Later that day I got a text from her: the Four Seasons drug tests just a heads up. I looked up from my phone. As a tiny child I always wanted to grow into a woman who everyone agreed was a beautiful soul, instead I seem to be growing into a woman who everyone agrees is an altered soul, one high off illegal substances. The next day I asked my manager if he thinks I do drugs. “Oh absolutely,” he said. “Like I imagine you to have a dad who is like the Earth Bar guy,” he told me. “The Earth Bar guy?!” I gasped. The Earth Bar guy delivers fresh fruit and produce to the cafe every week and is in his fifties, has long hair that is never tied up but hangs around his face in dirty strands, always is smiling, and once walked into the glass door and afterwards just turned around and left instead of using the handle to open the door and enter the building. “First and foremost, I love the Earth Bar guy, but he is not my father,” I told him, my eyes serious. “My father looks like Stephen Colbert, has a cactus garden and a law degree and enjoys listening to Cyndi Lauper while making lasagna,” I informed him. My manager had a look on his face and I could tell he was trying to decide which Dad was more alarming. “No, people think you are on drugs because of what you talk about,” he concluded. “I talk about normal things! Like how much boys suck and gel nail polish…” I said suddenly feeling like I had to lie in order to defend myself. “Yesterday you asked us if we believe people really have authentic selves,” he said crossing his arms across his chest with a look on his face that read debate over stoney baloney biotch.
He left and I stood there alone at the front desk muttering to myself. “I just wonder if anyone really does have an authentic self, it seemed like an interesting topic to engage in with other people who also have thoughts and observations..a good dialogue…” Then I stopped muttering and remembered the conversation. I had been standing there wearing fake leather pants and motorcycle boots in addition to my work shirt, one hand posed on the desk, the other waving about as I told a group my thoughts. “When you work with the general public,like the front desk at a gym or a grocery or retail store you constantly encounter people for brief moments and in that short interaction you form judgments and opinions about this person. For example, a woman could enter the check out line completely spacey, absorbed in texting on her phone and could be short and unfriendly to the employee ringing up all her purchases. The employee will later complain about this woman with other co-workers who complain about other weird or rude people they had encountered throughout the workday. But the employee has a much different impression of this woman than her husband would, or than her best friend would, or children would. That woman could have been texting her mother about her father who is in the hospital. She could have been spaced out because she was worrying about something. But the employee doesn’t give her the benefit of the doubt, they just complain because she gave them a bad first impression.
Which makes me think that if everyone we know and have relationships with, no matter how brief, or in depth, are not consistent, do we have an actual authentic true self and if so how do we know it?” I thought I had gotten to the climax of my idea, the part where everyone begins to chime in their opinions and we really delve into the subject matter but my audiences eyes had all glazed over and the majority of them looked bored with the exception of one who looked terrorized. I decided to try to keep going. “Imagine if you gathered all your boyfriends or girlfriends in one room and asked them to describe you, do you think they would all describe your character traits the same? Possibly, but each intimate relationship is different, and at a different stage in your life and development as a human being. The boyfriend you broke up with because you met someone else would probably have a different impression of you than the boyfriend who you split up with amicably because of long distance.” Nothing. I should have stopped, but I am inept, and I continued, but I began trailing off the path to my original point and began to run at full speed, weaving through the woods of many different ideas, thoughts and concepts in such a way that must be the reason everyone believes I am a confused person tripping off mushrooms that the Earth Bar guy gave me before I clocked into work.
“And if most of our impressions of ourselves come from what others think of us and if we are always evolving and growing do we even know our authentic self? We are constantly changing, constantly influx. It’s not like we walk around everyday exuding all the things that contributed to make us who we are at any given moment, things like our family history, our mistakes, our triumphs, our fears, what we love, who we love, our heartbreaks. You can’t post that to an Instagram page via a picture of you in the hefe filter. All that stuff is concealed deep inside, and all anyone ever gets to see is the physical shell of us, and how we treat them, even if its just in one two minute interaction in the grocery store check out line. We find other people we click with and reveal ourselves to, and we hide ourselves from others who we feel may not understand, maybe we hide ourselves out of fear that our true nature will be rejected? So we try to act like everyone else or what society has presented to us as what a socially acceptable person is?” I was lost in the woods now. One person in my audience had run away, and I decided to shut up and make camp in the spot in the woods I had now gotten myself stuck in. I finished my lecture by shrugging my shoulders and saying “My dad The Earth Bar guy would probably have enjoyed this topic a little more,” like the snooty little stoner I am. “The Earth Bar guy is your dad?!” someone said and everyone started discussing.
Most of the time when I meet people or encounter someone, I am wondering something crazy like if they sleep on their back or in the fetal position or what their favorite childhood memory is. I could really care less how they describe themselves on their Facebook page or what photos they post on Instagram, or what they do for a living, those things aren’t really a true reflection of a person, or a self, or a life. If I meet a boy, there could be a chance that somewhere in his past he broke a girls heart and she’s out there calling him a dirtbag because that’s what she thinks of him- and maybe he is a dirtbag, but I also have broken a boys heart, and I also have some guy out there calling me a nasty hobag. But is that who I am? The concierge at the hotel who was crabby and rude to me, is a person who could have been having a really bad day, his mom could have died, or he could have an alcoholic father who was mean to him and he grew up with the impression that people are going to be mean, so in defense he’s mean to them first. Kim Kardashian is still a human even if she is trying her hardest not to be and pumping herself full of silicon. I shouldn’t dance over either of their faces or hold their “selves” accountable for my ill perceptions of them. One of the greatest challenges of being alive in the world with other humans is extending compassion to others, especially people you only see briefly, but even to people you claim to know really well or people who have hurt you. We as people are not that simple, we are very complex, and we have histories, and bad days, and we make mistakes, and hurt others- but we also are never really finished products, even if we think we are.
I think our society is quick to judge, quick to make assumptions, and quick to make other people the villain. We want to hate celebrities, or politicians, or our boss, or the Jack and the Box man, or anyone we find threatening or scary or bad, we don’t even have to know them to hate them. We want people to be bad or good, but people are both. We don’t want to extend compassion or sympathy because that’s the harder thing to do, I’m absolutely not able to do it all the time. It’s easier to dismiss people and play the victim. But the truth is that doesn’t build you up into any tower of strength, it only shrinks your world into something so small, only you are in it.
The next day the unhappy man came back and I asked him if he was having a happier day. He looked at me and said, “You know what? I am. I don’t have too much to complain about, it is Friday, the weekend is coming, life ain’t that bad, but you can’t win them all, you know?” I nodded, “No you certainly can’t.”