“There are no obstacles on the path, the obstacles are the path.” — Zen Proverb
One upon a time lived an old farmer who had worked on his crops for many years. He was considered wealthy because he had a horse to plow his land in a village where many didn’t.
One day, his only horse ran off. When the villagers heard this, they rushed to his home to express their sympathy. “What a terrible thing” they lamented. But all the farmer said was: “Maybe.”
The next week, his horse returned, leading with it an entire herd of about a dozen horses. The villagers rushed over, exclaiming at his good fortune: “now you are the wealthiest man in the province”, but all the farmer said was: “Maybe.”
What does it mean to be happy? It’s a noble question, a question that I used to ask myself often, but rarely do now. I care for happiness, much like I care for sadness or any other feeling that is part of the human experience.
Happiness is a temporary feeling of euphoria, a firecracker with a short burst of light, or a surge of dopamine intended to make us feel good.
The taste of something delicious, a strong alcoholic beverage, a mind-numbing orgasm, a warm bath, and a million other iterations of pleasure can be aptly placed in the bucket labeled happiness.
Don’t get me wrong. I love good food, making passionate love, and enjoying the many beautiful blessings that life has to offer.
However, I don’t chase these euphoric feelings anymore. I don’t think about them as much, nor do I look forward to them. If the feeling of happiness finds me, I embrace it with open arms. Once the feeling leaves, it’s out of sight and mind.
It was about midnight and Reza was ready to go to work. His wife Anissa packed him some lunch, a thermos filled with piping hot chai, and a few extra rags for protection. Every evening she gives him a goodbye hug as if it’s the last time, even though she doesn’t want to.
Reza is a sulfur miner and on his way for the daily climb to Mt. Ijen’s volcano, located on the outskirts of Java, Indonesia.
During his trek up, he has little by way of protection. Volcanic gas and toxic fumes only increase as he makes his way closer to the belly of the beast. He has a thick rag that has become damp with heat, humidity, sweat, and gas that rivals overcharged battery acid.
The tall trees, with their giant, branched limbs, held each pine needle intact as if it had nothing else to do. It was early morning when Anand and Alicia jogged down to the group site to get some exercise before the sun would delicately scorch everything that wasn’t shaded. Summer in these parts is dry, with low humidity and skin crackling.
They saw Dale, one of the camp hosts at Sharp Creek campground. He was going nowhere in a hurry. He stopped to talk to them. In unison, they greeted him.
Alicia with gleeful curiosity, “What’s goin on?”
“Oh, a little of this and a little of that.”
Dale had a way with words. He was quick-witted, artfully humorous, and used a vocabulary that seemed foreign to the young couple, but still easily understood.
My current address is Sharp Creek Campground, site #9. It’s about 11:30 pm. I’m situated in the heart of large pine trees. It’s hard to believe that I’m in the Arizona high desert, but here I am. The campground is empty during the week and may stay that way on the account of campfire restrictions set by the National Forest Service.
I turn off my flashlight and walk through the vacant campground. I crunch and crush pine cones as I make my way to the luxurious pit toilets. The coyotes are howling in full bloom nearby as I glance at a dark dancing cloud passing the half-moon. The only guiding light I can see is the dim flicker of the bathroom a few hundred yards in front. I am temporarily taken back to elementary school.
We had our theories about what happens after we take the final dirt nap, but we would come to the same conclusion.
We don’t know.
The one thing she had, that I didn’t at the time, is hope.
Hope that there is something after, and perhaps the kindred spirits that we meet in this lifetime we’ll meet again. She wanted to be with her parents.
I can picture her as a little girl, walking through an open green field with hillsides sprawling with wildflowers in every direction. My grandparents are both holding each of her hands. They walk in the direction of a beautiful sunset to some uncharted path.