I made an earth-shattering discovery while ironing a pile of shirts, pants, and pillowcases: it is possible to deal with the unpleasantness of life and still be a “FulfilledandHappyme” (FaHm). No, I did not turn into Snow White, ‘whistling while I worked’ and moving the iron gracefully with a big smile on my face: I do not like ironing but I carry the gene. It comes from being raised in Europe and sleeping in pressed cotton sheets. It’s grown from watching my parents (my dad ironed anything flat, handkerchiefs and towels included; my mom took care of the rest, even underwear) produce perfect piles of wrinkle free clothes week after week. The pleasure I take in fresh and crisp garments beats my dislike of the job every single time. It brings me back to the ironing board and, yes, eventually, makes me very happy.
My life is filled with things I’d rather not do: take the recycling out, go to the mall, talk to the assistant principal when my child is misbehaving in school, or take the car for an oil change. It is also packed with stuff I love: baking pecan pie for Thanksgiving, reading a good book, or writing this essay. It’s no big deal to secretly swear while sorting through plastic bottles and egg cartons – it’s over in a few minutes- and the satisfaction of doing my part in keeping the planet clean is undeniable. It’s been a lot more challenging to hold on to my “FaHmness” when dealing with life’s true crises: my mother’s decline; the untimely death of my niece Myriam. Planning this first holiday season without Myriam is unbearably painful. Letting the grief do what it needs to do while remaining “fulfilledandhappy” has proven difficult. But does it have to be? Is there another way? Can my passion for happiness dress the wounds? Could the love that I feel and that is now bringing me pain be a gateway to more love, light, and happiness?
The Brussels brownstone where I grew up had a coal heating system. My father, twice a day, would go down to the cellar, shovel the black pellets, carry the heavy bucket to the furnace and feed the fire. He never discussed it but I cannot imagine that his coal duties were his favorite part of the day. Yet his diligence kept the fire alive and kept us all warm and cozy through the winter months. The red coals in the belly of the house spread warmth to every room and was vital to the wellbeing of our whole family.
The love we feel, even when it hurts, feeds the furnace of our inner aliveness. Thanksgivings is bittersweet: we’re all pilgrims bowing our heads to all that we’ve left behind and singing praise for what we have and what is yet to come. Loss and gain, grief and hope, tears and smiles; they’re all part of the feast like the coals are part of the fire. Yes, there is another way. We keep our hearts open and thankful. We leave Snow White to her whistling and we go back to the board of life accepting that even though not all things can be ironed out they can still bring us fulfillment and happiness. We earnestly practice opening up to all our experiences so that in time they may bring new blessings. We join Prince Charming’s “One song, I have but one song…” and we make it a song of LOVE. A “fahM” is first and foremost a being in and for love. And we give thanks for the chance to feel, mourn, and love still, because nothing, nothing is ever truly lost to the wondrous vastness of our hearts.