I’m so used to being in tune with virtually everything Jonathon says that I was a little taken aback when I read, “I've known for a long time that the legacy of those years is that I equate authenticity with sadness” in reply to a comment I made on his blog entry discussing Jackson Browne.
Somehow that statement haunted me this morning as I sucked up the last of this year's leaves. At first I wondered if perhaps I didn’t agree with him. Certainly much of what I’ve written about in my blog has focused on “sadness.” My favorite literature, too, often seems centered on sadness. If I am to believe all the negative reactions I’ve gotten when I recommend Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure as my favorite book, it is, indeed, a sad, depressing novel. Many of my favorite poets also focus on the inevitable sadness that accompanies life. Blues music is undoubtedly my favorite music, and what’s sadder than “the blues?”
Still, I resisted the notion that authenticity must be identified with sadness. Sadness is authentic, no doubt about that. At times, it’s what we most remember about relationships and events in our lives. My first love ended with a “dear Loren” letter as I was about to leave for Vietnam, Vietnam was anything but happy, and admittedly my first marriage is best symbolized by Browne’s “Shape of a Heart.” Nor can I deny that these are all pivotal events in my life.
However, I still don’t “equate authenticity with sadness.” Perhaps I might subscribe to a dialectical view of life, where joy and sadness seem to balance each other out, where both are “authentic” experiences. It often seems that sadness is the direct result of a corresponding happiness. For instance, the end of my “first true love” was sad precisely because the beginning had seemed so joyous. Everything had seemed so “alive” with Judy that it suddenly seemed dead without her. I’m not convinced, though, that the ending negates the beginning. The beginning joy is just as real, just as authentic, as the final sorrow.
Of course, I followed that sad moment up with a jaunt to Vietnam, so my life seemed really sad for quite awhile, particularly since I became a caseworker after leaving the army. Ironically, it was the joy of my marriage that ended this miserable interlude and gave me new hope in life. The birth of my two children seemed to confirm that optimistic view. For a while, everything, even the end of the Cold War, seemed to offer a rosy outlook on life.
Kids who were a pain-in-the-ass in school often seem certain I will remember them vividly, but, in reality, memories of them have long since faded. Instead, I remember the kids I loved teaching, the kids that were full of life and made sharing their life a joy.
But what really convinces me of the authenticity of happiness is that I seem most alive on those days when I am doing the things I most love. I often judge my summers by how many days I spend in the mountains, and I can’t remember a bad day while hiking in the mountain. I hardly remember the days when I sit around and accomplish nothing, but I vividly remember the joyful moments I spend with my kids or with my grandson Gavin. The “authentic” days are those you remember vividly, not those you have forgotten.