happiness is a mat that sits in her doorway

I used to collect quotations. I’d culled them from quotation books or magazines or friends or even the daily email from Oprah’s website. I’d write them in a flowery printed journal in my best handwriting. I wanted to the believe the lines like “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow,” but, Helen Keller never saw a shadow though she lived within one. I wanted her words to show my how to not only look at the sunshine, but surpass it and become it. She did, why couldn’t I?

For years my favorite quote was “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” When I found it I thought Oscar Wilde was my soul mate, that he understood my plight. I even wrote it in fancy scrawl across a painted wooden board that held a curtain rod and hung it over 2 different bedroom windows. But, looking at the stars does nothing for trying to reach them and if you don’t come out in the daylight, the gutter must be a hot and miserable place.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt and she was right. You must in fact do the thing you think you cannot do. She was strong and brave and I trusted her words. She was the original Nike slogan, “Just do it.” These words pulled me through many papers and exams in college, but nothing, nothing in college or life could prepare me for what lay ahead.

My first years teaching I was energetic and naïve and ready to take on the world. I loved what I did and felt absolutely called to do it. I thought that my teaching kids with autism was who I was. I thought it defined me and that everyone should revere me for the work I did. Those first years threw me into a tailspin of hatred and anger and bitterness and disappointment and fear and illness. I complained constantly and to anyone who would listen, but friendships and life were slipping away. Quotations and words of wisdom wouldn’t pull me through and there were many nights I just cried and prayed.

I finally sought help and through a counselor learned that my life was full of unhealthy patterns and that I was the only one in control of what could happen in my life. I didn’t believe her and for 3 years cried and complained about all the things that happened TO me. Then I began to use her advice and let the control go. I had to learn to let go and forgive. I had to learn to let life take me where it would. I had to learn to do the thing I thought I could not do.

I faced the shadows and the gutters and I’m still learning to leave them where they are, in the past. You can’t see the sunshine or stars clearly until you face their opposites. And no one and no quotation will help you truly get there. They can point the way, but you, you have to do the digging and nail biting eye to eye combat with all the bad things before you finally appreciate all the good ones and let happiness if not land, at least aim, at your doorstep, everyday.

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