The Pursuit of Happyness

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When was the last time you were ecstatically happy?

My journal sat open in front of me as I stared out the window struggling with what should have been a pretty easy question. I’ve done the work to overcome the events of the last few years and I’m back to being happy almost all the time – but when have I been ecstatically happy?

Every Saturday morning, a group from our church gathers near Lamar Blvd.on the pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake with a big purple sign that reads “Healing” and asks people walking by if they have any prayer requests. Foot traffic was sparse one particularly cold day last December and I asked my friend what he was doing for Christmas. Steve ticked off all of the various family gatherings he and his wife would attend and then told me they were flying to Haiti, sharing stories about how his family had been going regularly for about eight years to help with an orphanage there. Because I have flight benefits working for an airline, the wheels were already spinning in my head when Steve blurted out, “You should come with us!”

 A couple of weeks later I flew from Austin to Miami and gathered among the throngs of people ready to board the Port-au-Prince flight. the first flight went out full but a few hours later every standby passenger was accommodated. Being a seasoned traveler, I stored all my belongings and was just drifting off to sleep when I heard my name announced over the intercom. There were still open seats but because of a weight restriction, five of us would not be going after all. I texted my friends (who had purchased tickets) and let them know they didn’t need to come to pick me up that evening, grabbed a bite and a couple of beers and found an empty corner. Using my backpack as a pillow, I, not for the first time, went to sleep on an airport floor.

Flying standby isn’t always free. 

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Although cut a day short, my trip to Haiti was amazing. I met wonderful people from Haiti and others from the U.S., I held kids and played and also helped set up for a women’s conference. Among the team, I met a fellow blogger and amateur photographer named Stephanie Cherry. Along with traveling regularly to Haiti, she and her husband bought a huge 100 yr. old home and invite people to stay with them for seasons of restoration and healing. In one of her recent posts, she shared some incredibly profound questions from a journal she was going through. The décor of the book was quite “girlie,” but feeling no need to prove my manhood, I ordered a copy… and then quickly hid it in a drawer. just kidding = ))

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What was this question that was bugging me? If they had asked when I was I last happy I would have probably written, “right now.” But ecstatically happy implies much more than usual.

While searching my entire memory bank for the benchmark, I began reflecting on the countless times with Lori with all of our limbs tangled up, we drifted to sleep together. I thought about finally having close enough friends in Austin where I could just show up and plop down on their couch and just belong, meaning I no longer had to work to build or maintain the relationship. I thought of when their kids beginning to give me hugs and make up names for me or call me Uncle Billy. But that seemed more like extreme contentment. I was searching for exhilaration or exuberance. 

Times when I’m acting completely goofy and laughing till I cry with family and friends would qualifiy. I would also count the times when I’m running around and playing with my kids without worrying about what anyone thinks — times when I feel free.  But what struck me as odd was that too many of my ecstatic memories revolve around sporting events. Some of them were those featured my kids, like Samuel throwing touchdown passes or grabbing an interception late in a game, Somerley hitting an inside the park home run in the late innings with first place on the line or Chad catching six passes for 143 yards and two TDs and a school record. I thought of so many playoff games or World Cup matches I’ve watched with a huge group of intense fans in which losing means the end of the season and at the very end of the game, “my” team makes that one play that seals the victory… and the crowd goes wild!!!  

I recently watched A Call to Courage on Netflix with Brené Brown where she describes how researchers determined that vulnerability is the leading indicator for courage. She contends that to be truly courageous, one must risk failure or put their emotional or physical well being on the line – to be brave, innovative or inspiring, one must sometimes risk everything. I’m now wondering if experiencing ecstatic happiness or joy run some ways requires the same thing. Even those moments laughing and playing with friends and family, I had to drop my guard and risk rejection or embarrassment.

I think what was scaring me about the question is that if so many memories involve with triumph of others who put it all on the line, then how could I expect to live an inspiring and exhilarating life without doing so myself? I then began to ask myself if there was something on my heart that I wanted to step out in, but hadn’t worked up the courage yet? YES!!!

My buddy, Luke, texted me a month before my 50th birthday, “Make a reservation for 7 pm at Café Josie. You’ve got a date Friday night!” Though this would be my first blind date ever, I knew to ignore another friend’s advice, ”Blind dates aren’t much different than the regular ones. You just have to talk louder.“ 

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When Friday came, Luke sent me her number because he was going to be in a meeting for the rest of the afternoon. Crap, I wasn’t nervous until I had to come up with something cool to say to someone I didn’t know. Luke had already broken the ice by sending each of us ridiculous photos of the other, so I sent more goofy photos, joked around with her, threw in scriptures both with funny contexts and also the ones that I had built my life upon. If I was going to be close with someone, then I wanted them to know the real me. It was so fun to be flirting again. Once we finally met at the restaurant, we spent four hours talking over dinner and went out many times over the next few weeks. She’s an amazing woman and we remain really good friends. But as I continue this journey, my buddy, Glenn, among others, told me that all the kids these days are meeting people on dating websites. Even my mom texted me a link for Zoosk.

I met both the women I married in groups, got to know them and things progressed from there. I know I can talk to women.  But, the thing in my heart that scares me is I want to see someone attractive during my day, walk over and strike up a conversation and then ask her out. Why? Because I suck at it!! When I see someone and think about trying, I end up feeling just like I did back in junior high. How could that be when the last two women I’ve kissed have married me? I hold deep and amazing conversations all the time with all kinds of people. so do I find myself searching my database for cheesy pick up lines?

I’ve put myself out there in so many other areas of my life. I moved to Austin where I knew nobody except my daughter 88 days after Lori died and quickly built an amazing life here which includes regularly talking to strangers. = )) I‘ve been the new guy in my writing classes and read my pieces aloud when nobody else was doing so. I flew to London to tell a musician/song-writer from Austin what an amazing human and artist she was, because I knew it would have more impact there than me telling her at the Saxon Pub four miles away. I have visited so many places in this world that my coworkers won’t, because flying standby is a risk. Sometimes you really do sleep on the floor.

If I’m going to build the exhilarating, exuberantly, ecstatically happy life that I dream of, then I don’t have to become some adrenaline junkie. I do, however, have to step out in the one thing that is on my heart to do.

So I’m going to do it. I ‘m going to find some woman out there today and ask her if she gets to visit her dad in jail often… since he got arrested when he stole the stars and put them in eyes. Or maybe I should just walk up like a grown man and say, “Hi, I’m Billy. Do you think we could get together some time . I would really like to get to know you?”

Sounds good in theory, huh? And sitting here at my laptop, I’m all in!!

I’ll keep you posted if and how well I actually pull it off.

  

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