Small happinesses are the things that keep me going in these tumultuous times. As Thomas Paine so famously wrote as he tried to bolster the morale of the thirteen American colonies who were about to break away from Britain: ‘These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman’.
That was in 1765 … and today it seems that we all, all over the world need our morale boosted as civilisation seems to be struggling with crisis after crisis, which I don’t intend to list… we all know what they are. My way of coping with the outside world is to savour the world near home… it does no good to wring my hands over the tragedies and trials cutting their path through lives in every corner of the globe, it seems. So instead of adding to the pile of pain, I try to revel in the goodness of life.
And there’s so much, from the wonderful electrician in the States, who realised that the house of Gloria, belonging to the old woman whose dangerous light fixture he was repairing, needed a lot more repairs to her dilapidated old house. On Facebook he organised a crew of tradesmen who came along and repaired and rebuilt and improved the lonely old lady’s home. They also befriended her, calling themselves Gloria’s Gladiators, and thus sparked off other communities who now do the same. (I bet Gloria’s Gladiators were both Republicans and Democrats, because goodness, generosity of spirit and kindness don’t recognise politics or boundaries)
Then there’s the new trend of leaving a bunch of flowers on a park bench or in a bus shelter to lift spirits, and for someone to take and enjoy. There’s the old lady who used to walk around our local park refilling with water all the bowls she left under hedges for birds and the chickens who lived there; the woman who began leaving books in a phone box in an English village for people to borrow and enjoy during lockdown, which developed into a place where people left fresh eggs and home grown vegetables, and meals for people who needed them, and notes about services they could offer for free.
There’s the retired fire fighter who sold his house and bought a small country place where he could re-house all the stray cats trapped and due for death in his town, and who now has rescued ducks and dogs and donkeys and pigeons. He works at night in order to support his menagerie. I met him in the hospital ward where I lay – where this big burly man was dancing a light-footed tango to cheer up his sick mother.
Just reading about these committed, not random, acts of kindness lifts my spirits, and then there are other heart lifting small happinesses.
My Albertine rose is blooming, bright pink buds flowering into blowsy pale pink powder puffs- we nursed it through drought and storm and the most dangerous attacks of all, from hungry possums who love its buds. Night after night we draped it in layers of mosquito netting to foil the pests, and now it’s rewarding us with all its beauty.
There’s the small happiness of feeding the wild quails and waiting for the day they bring their tiny fluffy offspring… the pleasure of subsiding tiredly into a well-made bed, the satisfaction of accidentally stirring ginger into asparagus soup instead of garlic from an identical jar, and finding the soup now has an inner warmth that comforts my chest as well as pleasuring my taste buds.
There’s the joy of sitting with friends as we did last night, eating, drinking and laughing under a starry sky, waves of perfume from blossoming manukau trees wafting by, and thinking, oh bliss, more lovely honey for this year… watching the planets and the constellations come out, Mars and Orion the brightest, the light of satellites beating across the dark void, the flashes from an old iridium satellite… and an owl calling nearby. As the sky sparkled with coruscating jewelled pricks of light the words of beauty from Yeats poem crowded into my mind:
‘Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light… ‘
The last line reads ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ Yes, we do still dream and we do long for a peaceful world in these ‘times that try men’s souls.’
And small happinesses for me are the signposts to finding our peace in our own corner of the world.
Back in 1945, writer Frances Partridge wrote: “I used to assume that there was some stream of human existence which would prevent any great loss of civilisation already won. Now it seems as though that very thing has happened… and the violence of the present world. Oh how one longs for tolerance, humanity, kindness and for thought and discussions to come back into their own again.”
When re-reading those words written seventy- five years ago (another small happiness, re-reading the books one enjoys) it felt as though the turmoil engulfing the world at the moment is yet another turn of the wheel. It seemed to me that rather than be overwhelmed by times that try men’s souls, we can still dream of making a better world; that small happinesses, and committed kindnesses, and goodwill to all men can be the yeast that quietly helps us all to rise above fear, judgement, grief, and anger, or despair, doubt and despondency during this turn of the wheel. These small happinesses bring us back to the present moment, and anchor us in the goodness of the world.
Roses and birdsong, starry skies and soft rain, all the gifts of the world can comfort and enrich us if we recognise them. We just need to remember to look and feel. We are not ‘sunshine patriots’ in Paine’s words. We are citizens of the world, and our optimism and courage can be our gifts to our world and our civilisation, and our next step into the future as the wheel turns once again.
PS Not having blogged for a while, I find that WordPress in its wisdom has changed the method of posting a blog… hence the strange appearance of a photo I hadn’t intended to use, but gave up in the end… que sera sera…