Neocolonial houses line the block. Kids’ bikes are ditched on identical rectangular grass plots. The wind wipes away the hard work of chalk artists’ hopscotch lines. Inside all the families sit around a table eating dinner and talking about the day. This was how I grew up and it is the same scene I see every time I return home. The kids grow up and new families come, but I am convinced it is impossible that days on this street will ever change. It comforts me to know I’ll always return to children playing tag and being called in for dinner at 7:15. But every time the kids beg their parents to play for ten more minutes a wave of sadness washes over me. I sit puzzled wondering why I mourn the future I do not want. Puzzled as to why this normal life does not satisfy me and why I feel it should.
I have a deep internal pull towards the extremes. My emotions and thoughts swing back and forth, unable to ever rest on a calm equilibrium. This intense pull allows me to feel incredibly strongly, a blessing and a curse, it is also the source of my anguish over this same scene I always return home to. This version of life seems so nice, a standard family and home, a safety in the consistent known of a street that will never change. But as nice as I think it seems I know it would never be enough. I hate that it would never be enough. There is dignity in the ordinary. A peace in a life that generations repeat. I yearn to be the kind of person that sees kids being called in for dinner and happily imagines that as their future.
I have always thought I would do something big. Not because I am narcissistic and indulge in thinking I am so spectacular that I must be destined for greatness. Instead, this relentless feeling that having a big life is the only way I will be content. I have never nailed down exactly what a big life is, but know it is the one thing I have always wanted. I know it is not about wanting wealth and fame, I do not feel a desire for those, but I want to somehow make an impact. However, the quest for a big life is a quest filled with emptiness. This is why I mourn the future I do not want. It frustrates me that the standard vision of happiness does not appeal to me. Everything would be simpler if it did. If a classic home with two children that ditch their bikes on your rectangular plot of grass before dinner is what will make you happy then the path towards your happiness is relatively linear. That is not the case when your hope is an intoxicatingly grand life. The emptiness of a big life is rooted in the unclear path towards happiness. Does a big life account for happiness or care to?
I am not sure if happiness or the success of a big life appeals to me more, which worries me because I am not sure if that makes me a bad person. What worries me more is I know success is my answer but that admission, while I still debate if it makes me a bad person, does make me a deeply flawed person. I know something is wrong with wanting a life filled with events and stories and dramas not a life of smiles and laughs. Happiness is the one universal component of life that everyone is supposed to strive for. What kind of person is ambivalent towards their own happiness?
Happiness has been an elusive idea that plagues me. It is unclear if it is a goal to reach or something you should feel. Maybe if I better understood what happiness was I would desire it as much as success. It is confusing because the times I reflect on being the happiest are also times I have felt the most unstable. My version of happiness treads on an extremely thin line, I hover on a tightrope right above a crashing fall into melancholy’s arms. When I am at these elated peaks trying to balance my mother knows an inevitable slip will happen. When I call her crying and unable to explain why she has to remind me of those internal pulls towards extremes. Remind me that by feeling so strongly, I expose myself to these deep falls, but will eventually even out. So, happiness has never been a comfortable feeling for me. I am always anticipating my legs giving out and being swept off the rope. Maybe I would desire happiness more if I could see it the way others do. The happiness of those houses on the never changing street seems the same as contentment. My happiness does not.
By wanting a big life I know that tightrope will follow me. A big life does not have much room for neutrality. But I don’t know how I would live a life with neutrality. Maybe because I have never experienced that soothing equilibrium I cannot picture it, but because I cannot picture it I do not long for it. Should the thought of emotional stability and absence of sorrowful extremes appeal to me more than success? This is a question I feel should be answered yes, but again it is not how I would answer it. I am not sure why I feel as though it should be yes. To long for the standard vision of happiness feels ingrained in me. How could it not, it surrounds me. If I knocked on the doors of the homes on my street and asked if they were happy I assume most would say yes. If I asked why happiness is what they desired I assume most would stare with confusion, not understanding how it could be something you do not desire. Maybe all the people in these houses or the ones that envision those ditched bikes as their future have made peace with the extremes, maybe they are smarter for seeing the beauty in an even neutral happy.
I continue to watch the rows of homes as the night presses on. Dishes washed after dinner, children told to brush their teeth and put on pajamas, I hope a book was read to them before bed as they were to me, and then slowly light after light is turned off. I watch the rows of windows become reflections of the sky. I am left sitting there with the company of dimmed street lamps staring at the darkness of these homes wondering, if happiness isn’t enough am I destined to be unfulfilled?