• Lijing Cobb

Happiness now

I watched two movies yesterday, The Switch with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, and Friends with Money with Jennifer Aniston and other actors (not disrespecting the “other actors,” just stating the fact that I watched the movie only because Aniston was in it.). I love Aniston. Ever since I was introduced to Friends fresh upon my arrival in the United States over 22 years ago, I’d always been partial to this actress who seemed real to me. Not one to follow celebrities and gossips about them, I was nevertheless shocked to hear the news of her divorce from Brad Pitt. What kind of a man would leave this lovely woman who, as Rachel Green in Friends, had her little neurotic quirks like everyone else, but always radiated a warmth and kindness from the center of her being? Plus, she was so pretty. Still is.

She ended up happy in both movies I watched yesterday, which made me feel good. I started watching The Switch in my bed around 4:15 instead of a badly needed nap. I was shocked that I did not fall asleep, and when my alarm went off at 5:30 to drive my daughter to her ninja gym, I found myself hoping for a good excuse to not go so I could stay put and finish the romance. Not having such luck, I put a pair of earphones in my purse and headed out with my little one to the gym, knowing that I will be watching the rest of the movie while I waited for my daughter. In the car, I found myself telling the story of The Switch to my 7yo, who was very interested in it and kept asking, “then what?” When we got to the gym I finished telling her what I’d seen so far and promised to finish the story on the ride back.

As soon as we got back in the car an hour and a half later, my daughter asked, “so mommy, you said you would tell me the rest of the story!”

“Yes!” Happily I went on to tell her the rest. When I finished, she asked, “then what, mommy?”

“That’s it, babe. They lived happily ever after.”

“Oh.” She paused. A little while later, she said in a babyish voice, insisting, “Then what?”

Indeed, then what? The happy ending that Aniston and Bateman’s characters, along with their son, then 7 years old, was of course not won without a long series of twists and turns involving repressed emotions, self doubt, and the nursing of a possibility of happiness over the course of at least a decade. As clear-eyed onlookers we know that Jason and Jennifer should have started their happily ever after as soon as the movie started as they met each other at a crowded New York restaurant, chatting effortlessly as best friends would. But as inevitable as the plot was always leading to that ending, the well trained Hollywood romance movie watchers nevertheless sit for an hour and a half, patiently waiting for the drama to unfold, watching these characters taking the wrong turns and making the silly mistakes, missing signs, missing each other, until finally, when the allotted time for the movie is up, they arrive at the promised land.

When we finish the film we leave with happiness in our heart for the characters we just saw on the screen. The happily ever after part is implicit, and the audience is complicit in anticipating and accepting such an alluring forecast. We forget that it took them over a decade to realize that they belonged together. We forget that change is hard, and as life continues for them off screen in the promised land, without the skillful direction of the mastermind who condones eventual happiness to them, they would most likely be repeating similar mistakes they’d committed in the past, and who knows what else would have taken them another 10 years to realize.

The happily ever after has never been real, because we do not see the future. All we have is now. The past is gone as well.

The attraction of these romance movies is always the triumph of love in the end, after many vicissitudes of trials and tribulations for the characters. The theory is that love wins, and we should never give up hope. The trust is that there is a cosmic order of things, and if we belong together, no matter how long it takes, we will always end up sharing our lives together, so no worries. Leave it to the competent hands of the experienced director, who knows how the game is played. Give it 90 minutes and you’ll get your happy ending.

When we went to watch the new Spiderman movie last month, my 10yo wasn’t too happy with the ending. Spiderman and his girl did not end up together, so my daughter was denied the happily ever after. I suspect that she would have found the second movie I watched yesterday, Friends with Money, somewhat intolerable. Although Rachel Green, I mean Jennifer Aniston’s character ended up in a vaguely happy situation, she was not your glamorous beauty queen, but cleaned people’s houses for a living, collected and used free cosmetic samples for her beauty upkeep, stole from her customer, shacked up with a no good man boy who had no respect for her, and finally ended up in the beginning of a potentially good relationship with one of her customers, who is fat, unkempt, but turns out to be rich and owns up to his “people problems”. I think my 10yo might have also turned up her nose to the stories of the other characters, 3 married couples with their idiosyncratic issues, you know, the mundane every day issues of anger, jealousy, competition, taking each other for granted, self-centeredness, identity crises, and so on. What’s the fuss all about? Nothing’s blowing up, no one’s almost dying and miraculously saved, nobody’s flying through the air and fighting the impossible. Frances McDormand’s character walks into some glass doors and ends up with a broken nose. Nothing is magical and everything is entirely too possible.

I think I might be done with the flamboyant. What registered most in my memory from the latest Spiderman movie was not the main storyline at all, a boy losing his beloved aunt, his best friend and girlfriend, in order save himself and the world. What stands out from that entire movie was some of the side stories involving the older spidermen. How they were instructed by a Filipino lady to clean the cobweb on the ceiling and straighten up the room after their fight. How they compared the technical and “gross” details of how their spiderwebs were generated. How they complained about a sore and stiff back from all their evil-fighting efforts and stretched each other out before a big fight.

The small little things that we, as heroes and heroines of our own daily movies, are too blind to see, because we have our big pictures, the final destination of happiness in mind. In our relentless drive to achieve happiness that is in the future and somewhere else, we miss all the signs that tell us, sometimes silently, sometimes loudly, sometimes one voice amidst many other noises, sometimes screaming and shouting: please, stop driving, stop running, stop moving, stop chasing, stop plotting, stop wishing. I’m right here. Right in front of you. Open your eyes, and take me into your arms.

Just now, as I was about to get to what I just wrote down, the yummy part, my 10yo interrupted the beautiful flow of my thoughts. “Mommy, I don’t know what to eat.” She whined.

“What do you want to eat?” I said, eyes on my screen, thoughts half facing her, half in my own world.

“Well, I want a bagel, but we don’t have any.”

“Ok, let me put bagels on my grocery list.”

“Or I could eat eggs, but I’m not very good at cooking them, and you are.”

“Ok, let’s go cook you some eggs.” I stood up and walked downstairs with her, calculating how many minutes I’m losing by taking the time out to get her what she wanted.

A few minutes later, her eggs were done. “Wow, it only took you like 4 minutes!” She observed. She had made me, while I was watching my movies last night, my favorite granola, which must have taken her at least an hour. So I made myself a bowl, gave her a kiss on the forehead and thanked her for doing that for me, before walking back upstairs to resume writing. In an earlier blog I had written about my epiphany that the most important thing is always the thing that is happening right now, and I continued to observe that golden doctrine. I was annoyed by the interruption, but I honored her request and acknowledged that that must be the most important thing at the moment, and turned my attention to it. I found my happiness right there, when my daughter thanked me for making her the eggs she wanted, when I got a bowl of granola that she had made for me, when I kissed her and thanked her for loving me. And when I came back to my writing spot, my inspiration and happiness here were still waiting for me.

Let happiness happen now. Don’t wait for it to happen at the end of your life, 10 years down the road, or even tomorrow. Don’t go looking for it away from here, at the other end of the world, somewhere far away. Feel it through your bones, on your breath, in your heart. Open your eyes and take it into your arms. You might just find it in three over-easy eggs cooked in 4 minutes, a batch of singed granola your 10yo daughter made for you, and a happily ever after story you tell your 7yo daughter on a car ride that you did not want to take.

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