by Mary Holtrop
I work at my local library in administration. In November when we had to close our doors again due to the increase in the COVID cases, the director and myself discussed bringing back our monthly book discussion via Zoom. We have some new staff at the library who do not have book club experience and we thought this would give the new staff an opportunity to take over some of the book clubs before we re-open. The second book we read was called Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill. This is a very short book of a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. The staff leader of the discussion who picked out the book stated “you will either love it or hate it.”
During the discussion, which I agree, most of us either loved it or hated it, with one person staying neutrally in the middle, the discussion leader started to talk about happiness. This discussion lead into a deeper discussion on whether we thought the main character was happy. Before I proceed, I want to share that this staff person is a very happy person. At least she seems to be. She is enthusiastic, energetic, and always smiling. I wasn’t surprised that she asked this question about the main character being happy. After we discussed whether we thought the main character was happy, the staff leader asked if we can remember three times in our lives that we were very happy. She is referring to being joyful, over the moon happy.
And I froze.
This was the moment like in grammar school when I hope the teacher did not call on me to answer. I couldn’t. Suddenly I am nervous and wracking my brain to think of an answer in case she or someone else asks. And I couldn’t. But here’s the thing. I knew I was not going to be able to answer this question. It’s not that in my heart I don’t feel joy because I do. And it’s not that I am a negative person who always see’s the bad in any moment. I just can’t reflect on a time when I felt so over the moon happy.
Others mentioned their wedding day, birth of their children, a move to another state or a job. I found this interesting because they all said the same thing; Wedding, children, a vacation with their spouse. I wanted to ask them “besides that, when were you truly happy?” I will be honest, I was not happy on my wedding day. I was scared and thinking how was I going to get out of this. Even just before we walked down the aisle my father said “are you sure?” I wasn’t sure. But I was scared of what people would think of me if I backed out. I felt corned and trapped and I knew this was not going to be good. And it wasn’t. I have three children and the birth of my first was an emergency caesarian which meant the second two were going to be cesareans as well. I loved my children and I cried when they were born. I felt a deep love for them. But my marriage was so bad, I was afraid all the time. I was afraid to feel happy because I knew the rug was going to get pulled out from under me.
Going forward, it was all about survival. There have been times over the years where I felt happy for my children, and happy for others but I cannot say I have felt happy. Good things have happened over the years but I honestly worry, because if something is good, it’s going to go bad. I think I have always had this fear which has just prevented me from letting go, and feeling complete joy. I know this. And it makes me sad. I see people like the staff book leader who as just so happy and I envy it. I just wish I could. I also think this has prevented me from establishing some deep friendships. I care about people, and I want friends, but I just don’t believe or trust that people really care about me.
My walk buddy often talks about these long-term friendships she has with friends from elementary school or high school. I admire this. I always wanted this. It’s just I never believed I mattered much to others. So, I think about this a lot. I went through old pictures looking for ones where I looked happy.
So thinking about this article, what to write and what to share. I wonder, when have others felt truly and completely happy? What would you say to someone like me? What brings you joy, what makes you smile? I am not a fan of journaling but for Lent, I decided to spend some time doing this. My goal, is to write down what makes me feel happy. Maybe it will help me find some answers.
My name is Mary Holtrop and I am in my mid 60’s. I have been active and exercised my entire life. When I was young my siblings and I were always active, running, playing, and riding bikes everywhere. When I got to my teens I started playing organized sports such as field hockey, basketball and volleyball. I played basketball and volleyball for my high school and college teams. During college I started running and I loved it. But by the time I was 30 I had my first set of knee surgeries. I married, had 3 children all who played organized sports from the time they entered kindergarten. Keeping my family active was important to me. All three of my kids played college level sports and two now run marathons. Meanwhile, I walked, biked and did exercise videos all the way up to this day. I exercise daily, mostly walking, biking, yoga and classical stretch/essentrics. I strongly believe that exercise is good for your mind and your body. I work as a business manager for a public library. I have worked in libraries for 17 years all in administrative capacity. I live in a small town about 70 miles west of Chicago and I am happy there are bike trails close by for me to explore.