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Let happiness burn

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NOVEMBER 23, 2022

When I was a child, my mom used to collect snow globes. For every place we visited, we brought home a new addition to sit atop our little living room coffee table. I thought it was silly. To me, this fragile memento only took up space. Alas, my sentiments were later dignified once my brother knocked several over and shattered them. My mother, exasperated, changed gears by purchasing magnets instead of snow globes — a less fragile collection.

I realize now that despite my younger self’s angsty eyerolls, I myself have my own collection: memories. I keep them folded up in my back pocket, filed away in the corners of my mind, unearthing them when I’m lonely, or watching them spring up when something feels oddly familiar. I realize that I capture moments out of worry, perhaps stemming from my anxiety; a constant agony over whether I savored a moment enough. 

When I was little, adults used to exclaim “ang sarap kumain!” a Tagalog expression that describes when another person’s sheer enjoyment of food is palpable. In a way, I think my eagerness to relish every lick of ice cream or every grain of rice stems from the acknowledgement of life’s fleeting nature. These unconscious actions are appreciation uninhibited, an understanding of impermanence. 

I used to think “remember this” to myself in what I had deemed to be pivotal moments — moments before we moved houses, before people moved away permanently or before I stood in front of a buzzing crowd. My temporal awareness mixed with mortality, ushering my mind into a frantic attempt to grasp onto every detail. 

“Things never happen the same way twice,” a quote from C.S. Lewis, manages to resurface whenever I find myself in the middle of a moment worth treasuring. I tune into my senses to grasp every detail. I grow conscious of how my skin feels against my clothes, what the air smells like and how a person’s warmth radiates through a hug. 

Lately, it’s been a cautionary approach to happiness. It begins with a flicker of recognition that in this moment, I am happy. Perhaps, if I were anyone else, this hyperaware acknowledgement would be brief — a mere blip before I continue to submerge myself in an emotion before it wanes. But I am not anyone else. For me, this moment is quickly followed by alarm, tailed by a flurry of panicked thoughts: What did I do to deserve this? How did I get here? When will I feel this again?

Some days it feels like premature mourning, undercutting my ability to immerse myself in pure, unbridled joy. Only recently have I registered how carefully I hold joy in my hands, clutching it, eyeing it, cautiously awaiting its disintegration. 

As someone with a tumultuous mental health journey, I’ve endured a prolonged period of time feeling the watered-down version of emotions. I’d watch people walk with a skip in their step, sob during movies or howl with laughter. I was left questioning why the only emotions I could feel were anger and sadness. There were days I yearned for a mood ring that glowed purple, blue or yellow to indicate what I should’ve been feeling. Now, in the moments when emotions feel overwhelming, I acknowledge that processing these takes time, and it takes practice.

In the past, in the absence of emotion stood nothing but pure apathy. This leaked into every other aspect of my life as I soiled relationships and carelessly bulldozed through life with the only goal of making it to tomorrow. Now, I cup emotions in my hand, unsure of how to handle something so fragile on the right side up. Maybe it’s funny — or ironic, really — that I now hold moments of joy and extreme emotion with the same care my mother gave her collection of snow globes. I realize that collections are really just symbols for moments, people and places. 

All this time, my mom and I have been collecting the same thing, just in different ways. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps it’s okay to let happiness burn. It’s okay to sit in front of the warmth of a fire, to watch the wood crackle with a raging fire and acknowledge the finite nature of it all. It’s okay to feel the warmth radiate through your core, down to the tips of your fingers and to relish it all while it lasts.

I wish I had known it was alright to burn through emotions. At times, we are allowed the chance to seethe with rage, sob our eyes out and admit these feelings. Allowing ourselves to feel is part of being human. We may attempt to distract ourselves from what’s in front of us as we load up our plates with work shifts, internships and clubs. But, if we never confront what’s right there in front of us, some day, they’ll demand to be felt. It won’t come in waves, but in a tidal wave of emotion. You don’t have to collect emotions in the same way I do. But the next time you recognize an emotion in its purest, distilled form, I invite you to acknowledge it, to make space in your brain to acknowledge that you are alive and that you’ve made it.

Andrea Benitez writes the Wednesday column on existing in between spaces. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.
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NOVEMBER 23, 2022