I have been feeling happy. Happy, not in a tied to specific event way, not in an overly elated way, just in that my most powerful emotion is a peaceful happiness. I don’t strive for a life where I feel “happy” all the time, nor do I really think that option exists, but when I started to feel this way in the beginning of October, I was excited and relieved. I have not experienced “happiness” as a dominant emotion in the past three years. Of course, I felt joy and pride - when I finished my PhD, running, spending time with family and friends - but I would not describe my underlying emotions during the period as “happy.” My current emotional state has been buoyed by my current and growing community in Durham, coincided with a beautiful fall that I felt able to appreciate, and is correlated with a shift of my grief.
I place a high value on community and friendship. One of my major priorities post moving to Durham was to spend time with new people and find communities to join. A really special fall weekend was Durham Pride. Durham Pride happens in late September every year, perhaps to spread queerness across the year since Raleigh and Chapel Hill already have events during Pride Month in July. The parade happened on a beautiful day. I watched the beginning with a close friend and some of their friends, then walked in the parade with Durham Queer Sports, then hung out with a different friend and her family, and then ended up walking some more with Durham Queer Sports. It was fun to find myself interacting with different sets of people, and it was one of the first times that I explicitly thought — I am building some community here.
A week after Durham Pride, I was in a car accident. I was not injured, and neither was the other driver, but my car did not escape damage. I was lucky to have local support that helped with some of the immediate post-accident logistics and gave me rides for the ensuing month when I didn’t have a car. Their generosity and kindness made a huge difference, and instead of feeling all alone, my connections to my network grew stronger.
In October, I also threw my first “party” in Durham. It was a waffle themed brunch. With support from one of my housemates, I managed to make plenty of waffles, a potato and onion scramble, cranberry walnut bread, spinach salad, and enough HOT coffee. We sat on the porch (I did some extensive de-leafing the day before) and used my disco speaker for ambiance. I really enjoy hosting, and it was fun to bring some of the people that I have been spending time with together.
The leaves changed colors in Durham slowly, but vibrantly, throughout October. I don’t consider myself a “fall” person; I love summer. I never got really excited for fall in Boston. It might be because I was very spoiled after two years of high school in Western Massachusetts, but it also might have been my instinctive bit of pushback against hype (even when its legitimate). And so, I did not have expectations about fall colors here. My experience of the changing trees was amplified by commuting to work by bike. (Being able to commute by bike was a huge reason I was able to survive a month sans car.) There are just so many trees in Durham, and I felt particularly aware of that from my bike.
Coinciding with the sensation of “happiness,” was a shift in my grief. Previously, it felt weird to interact with people that didn’t know my father had died - his death just felt like such a big part of who I was. In situations where I was building any kind of intimacy, I felt an uncomfortable pressure to share that he was dead. Now, that feels much less present, and it is a big relief. Currently my experience of grief feels less constant but also more acute when it hits. I want to call him on a quiet Saturday, I want to reminisce about how much of my childhood was spent picking up his shirts with him on Saturdays from the dry-cleaners and getting lollipops, and I want to ask him questions about his career that my experience with work has raised for me… but I can’t. I do know that my father would be proud of me for my journey over the past year and thrilled to know that I am in a positive emotional state. (And he would have been very freaked about the car accident.)
Life is too hard, too challenging, too rich, too joyful for any one emotional experience to last very long, but I am appreciating feeling happy right now.