There's a difference between the public face that we put on when we are outside of our homes, or visiting with friends, and the private face that we wear around the house, or when we are alone.
I watch my mother whenever I take her to the doctor. Usually the reason for going to the doctor is something that has gone wrong with her. Her back is "killing her," she has bad headaches, she is feeling dizzy, she hasn't slept in several nights. But when she gets to the doctor, she is Miss Personality. She smiles, laughs, minimizes (or denies) any problems. The doctor is charmed by her, because everyone is charmed by a personable 94 year old. But when we are home again, her back still hurts, she still has headaches, she still feels dizzy, but the doctor doesn't know that because she can tell just by looking at her that there is nothing really wrong. She just smiles and enjoys my mother's humor and looks at me as if I'm crazy for having brought her in.
But we all do that, don't we? I am thinking of a woman at Atria, who is never without a smile on her face. She has the aura of someone who has just encountered the Land of Oz and is filled with the wonder of it all. She wanders the halls, talks to everyone and you can hear her laugh all over the building. Yet she had an "event" recently and was hospitalized briefly and then spent a few weeks in a convalescent hospital for recovery. She returned to Atria, but did not leave her apartment. There was a sign on the door asking people please not to knock. She didn't go to the dining room, but we would see trays of leftover meals outside her door, waiting to be picked up.
Someone finally lured her out of her apartment and into the dining room for lunch and there she was, her same beaming, smiling face, ready to give hugs and to seem amazed at everything around her. But I have not seen her since and the trays are still sitting outside her apartment from the meals she orders in so she does not have to go out in public.
I watched a friend yesterday go through a very upsetting thing. The only way I knew about it was from one small Facebook post (and later an e-mail). She has to be at the very depths right now, but if you read her facebook posts today, you'd never know it. I suspect that in public she appears the same as she always does, smiling and laughing, but she must be dying inside.
I am aware that I live under a little black cloud. The deaths, the big and little hurts and disappointments of life never leave you. They are part of that little black cloud and while they don't define who you are, they are just always there when you are alone. I find myself staring off into space at times, or walking around hunched over the way I remember my grandfather walking when he got to a "certain age" (probably 71. :)) Bad words are sometimes uttered under my breath because sometimes there's just nothing like a shocking word to just express how it feels to have this black cloud following you. "Heck" just doesn't do it.
It's not that I'm ready to do anything drastic. I accept the cloud. It is who I am. Like Jacob Marley's heavy chain of locks, the black cloud has grown year by year out of the experiences. It's not that I am an UNhappy person, but I am neither a happy person. In questionnaires about happiness, I usually say "I am content," which describes me. And content is a good place to be. I'm content with where I am, but I don't have the sparkle that I have had in past years. I wonder if anybody does. You can't live this long and not have a lot of sad things that have become a part of your life.
I understand completely my mother's little deceptions when she leaves her apartment, because I cover up that little black cloud when I am out in public too. I laugh and converse appropriately, I have a good time. I really do. I really enjoyed the luncheon yesterday, for example. But when I go back home again and there are no distracting external stimuli, the cloud is there waiting for me.
This all comes up because today's daily blogging prompt: "If you’re feeling blah, what is the one thing you do that you can count on to put a smile on your face?"
I thought about that a lot because nothing really came to me instantly. Is it spending time with the grandkids? Not really. I love them, and I love being with them, but I see them so infrequently and our time is short, so it's not the one thing I can count on to put a smile on my face when I'm feeling blah.
Is it the dogs, whom I love, who make me laugh many times a day? Not really. I think the answer might change if we only had one dog, but the 3 vie for my attention and sometimes it is more an overwhelming burden than a delight, though it can also be a delight.
Is it getting out to go to a show? Definitely not! After 14 years of being a critic, though there are shows I love, it is work. We went to a show recently and Walt mentioned how much he always enjoyed the shows from this particular group. I told him I would have enjoyed it much more if I hadn't been sitting there figuring out what I was going to say in my review.
I'm looking here for the thing that I can count on to put a smile on my face. I finally realized that the one thing that I really love and that always puts if not a smile on my face, at least a little cheer in my heart, is getting into the car, alone, and going for a drive with a good audio book to listen to. I realized that this is what has been missing from my life this past year...with my mother safely ensconced at Atria, I am not making those 160 mile round trips two or three times a week any more. My audio book time is mostly limited to whatever I can fit in in driving from our house across town to the post office. Sometimes after I leave Atria, I go home "the long way," driving out into the country and back again just to have a bit more time with my audio book.
It's not the same as getting into a car with Walt and listening to an audio book (which we always do whenever we go to Santa Barbara). There is something about being in control of the car, stopping for snacks when I feel like it, eating at restaurants if I feel like it, without worrying about the cost (because it's on my credit card, not the family card), seeing something interesting and going off the highway to investigate (or photograph) it, listening to books I know Walt (or any other passenger in the car) would not be interested in, and just enjoying the freedom of the road. That puts a smile on my face every time. I leave Joe Btfsplk (the guy from "Little Ab'ner" with the cloud over his head) at home, tending to the black cloud and I just enjoy being on my own for a few hours.
I've missed that this year.