There is construction going on at the top of the Road to Nowhere. They are installing gray water pipes in the park. This morning a man in a bright orange vest was holding a stop/slow sign. He turned it to stop as I slowly approached. We waited while a huge construction tractor drove up to a trailer full of large pipes on pallets parked in the right lane. The tractor guy carefully inserted his forks into the pallet of pipes while a guy on the other side used a shield on his tractor to push against the pallet so nothing would fall. The three of us in the van watched in awe. As if it was an intense movie scene, Parker started worrying out loud. “Don’t drop it, don’t drop it!” Tractor guy managed to drive through the opening to the fenced off parking lot without anything happening to his load. The stop sign was turned to the slow side and I was able to cautiously proceed out onto the main road.
This scene reminds me of a lesson I relearned recently in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Dandelion Wine, Cold Sassy Tree, and To Kill a Mockingbird all mix together in my mind. I love the stories in these books. I love the simplicity of the times and the life lessons learned. The other day I read about the Happiness Machine in Dandelion Wine. Leo Auffmann was an inventor and took it upon himself to invent a Happiness Machine. He thought he succeeded but instead of making his wife happy she cried. Not tears of joy either. All along she had been telling him that there is no such thing as a Happiness Machine. Then she humored him by sitting in it and she cried. Actually, she didn’t humor him. Their son tried to stop her from entering the machine after having a horrible experience in it himself. She replied, “I have to know what it is I’m yelling about!” She got in and it inevitably made her cry.
The machine reminded her of things she didn’t have. Things she never knew she wanted but the reminder made her want them. It made her momentarily believe she was young when she knew she no longer was. So many things that Leo thought would bring happiness left a bitterness in his wife Lena. Because she was already happy. Her life was monotonous and dull as a housewife, but she loved every minute of it. She loved taking care of her children and supporting her ambitious husband. As he worked on the machine she tried to tell him to just enjoy his life as it is. He didn’t understand until the damage had been done.
“The first thing you learn in life is you’re a fool. The last thing you learn in life is you’re the same fool. In one hour, I’ve done a lot of thinking. I thought, Leo Auffmann is blind! … You want to see the real Happiness Machine? The one they patented a couple thousand years ago, it still runs, not good all the time, no! but it runs. It’s been here all along.”
It was a great reminder for me. I remember being in the trenches with three kids under the age of four – sleep deprived, overwhelmed, with spit up and snot as my accessory du jour. I found something that made me happy almost every single day. I think of my life now. What’s different? Not much. It’s a different kind of busy. I worry about my kids differently and they make my day in different ways. Older kids are different from babies and toddlers. The trick is remembering to find joy in it.
I heard a story about a career centered woman. It’s a story that repeats a lot with detail tweaks and different characters. She went on vacation with her family. Actually it wasn’t much of a vacation but a change in venue. She and her husband had rented office space to work remotely. The kids were enrolled in day camps and spent the evenings with their grandparents. When this woman was asked how she enjoyed the vacation she said it was a lot of babysitting. These are her own children. People she consciously created and wanted. She said she found out later there was a camp closer to home. They didn’t need to head for the hills when they could have accomplished all the same things at home.
The story makes me sad. I have learned that people like this wish for a Happiness Machine. Since no such thing exists they assign happiness to outside sources. Media, money, honor and prestige. They forget that happiness exists within their own families. That they actually chose the life they are currently living.
Lately I have felt bogged down by newfound busyness. I’m a stop and smell the roses kind of person, or at least I want to be. I don’t measure my success by how long my to-do list is. However it is easy to beat myself up over how much of my list is left at the end of the day. It’s easy to compare my failures to other’s successes. Deep, deep down I know my life is perfect just the way it is. My house if full of noise. Laughter, squeals, and yelling. Construction congests the only way in and out of my neighborhood. Sometimes I feel like I can’t take any more slowdowns to my plans. Then I stop and enjoy the moment. I enjoy watching construction workers do their jobs as I drive my kids to school in the morning. I sigh contentedly and realize there is no Happiness Machine. And that’s a good thing.
“Here,” whispered Leo Auffmann, “the front window. Quiet, and you’ll see it.”
And there, in small warm pools of lamplight, you could see what Leo Auffmann wanted you to see. There sat Saul and Marshall, playing chess at the coffee table. In the dining room Rebecca was laying out the silver. Naomi was cutting paper-doll dresses. Ruth was painting water colors. Joseph was running his electric train. Through the kitchen door, Lena Auffmann was sliding a pot roast from the steaming oven. Every hand, every head, every mouth made a big or little motion. You could hear their faraway voices under glass. You could hear someone singing in a high sweet voice. You could smell bread baking, too, and you knew it was real bread that would soon be covered with real butter. Everything was there and it was working.