I used to be afraid to fly, but it took too much energy, what with the adrenaline, the feverish praying, the re-visiting my entire past. These days I toss my bags under the seat in front of me and stick my nose into a novel. I have been reading voraciously recently; oddly, I have been obsessively reading the great Russian novels: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov. Solzhenitsyn is next on my list. Ever since the last election, I find myself withdrawing further and further into this foreign world, this world of pre-Revolutionary Russia, where the upper classes spoke French and everyone had about five different names. Where an autocracy just came out and admitted it was an autocracy.
I am flying now, with Katryna, our first flight together since The Great Maternity Leave/Polyp Challenge—and the first flight since my honeymoon. Excuse me, I mean Honeymoon/book tour, because, being me, I couldn’t just go out to the west coast and be with my brand new husband, showing him the sites and enjoying his reaction to his first west coast visit. Nay. I had to piggyback a book tour—my first book tour—on top of all this. Oh, and also I caught my nephew, William’s cold which incubated during the wedding but manifested wickedly the first morning we woke up in California. As a result, there was a lot of Kleenex, Emercen-Cee, Airborne and Zicom, not to mention one visit to the San Francisco ER. But more of this anon.
Expectations are premeditated resentments. And resentments, I have learned, while fun to harbor, especially in small groups of people, late at night over a bottle of wine or package of Oreos, are fatal to OSA’s (Overly Sensitive Artists) like me. There’s nothing like spiritual growth to kick the air out of the tires of good old fashioned gripe sessions. It seems whenever I find someone else irritating the hell out of me, and I then complain about that person to another person, or group of people, I feel righteous and justified for a good hour or so and then I begin to feel the symptoms of emotional hangover: kind of queasy, sick to my stomach, increased irritation. Sort of like how coffee gives you energy but then you crash, or how sugar feeds your hunger for about twenty seconds before it makes you starving. Or if you have poison ivy how it feels good to scratch the itch, but eventually it just itches more and has turned bloody from the scratching.
All right, all right, so over time I’ve learned this. What I haven’t fully learned is that when I even expect someone—let’s take myself, so as not to offend anyone else—to behave a certain way, and then they don’t, I am frustrated, confused, irritable. Why is this person behaving so inappropriately?
Exhibit A: It’s my wedding day. My favorite people are gathered around me. I am marrying the man of my dreams, my soul mate for whom I’ve been waiting my whole life. My family is thrilled: they adore this man, and they love me too–I can see that. I am surrounded by love, flowers, good food, large wrapped packages. I am about to go to California on a two week honeymoon. So why am I in such a bad mood?
Well, there really was a good reason, theoretically. When in doubt, blame the weather (at least if you live in New England). During the week leading up to the big day I was mysteriously compelled to keep checking the weather forecast, like once an hour. When, last September, Tom and I chose May 14 as Le Grand Jour, we knew the weather could be iffy. Sometimes in New England, it’s 90 in May; other times it’s in the low fifties. I had no idea if I should buy a strapless dress or wear fake fur. Ten days out from the wedding, both AOL Weather and The Weather Channel predicted 62 and raining. We planned on an outdoor wedding, with tent, but with the knowledge and accompanying trepidation that we might really, deeply and muddily, regret it.
The morning of May 14 it was 58 and raining. To make matters worse, my head felt like it was being compressed in a vise, the familiar symptoms of a soon-to-be raging migraine. I was, to put it politely, in a mild passive aggressive fury at God as well as at myself for not being more spiritually evolved so as to rise above the unfortunate circumstances. I called some friends and met them in the morning, and as they sat with me and listened quietly and calmly, I raged, bawled and sobbed. Then I went up to Goshen to get my hair done. I thought I would feel better with my up-do, ringlets and all, but instead, looking in the mirror, I felt like the fat old duchess from Alice In Wonderland and not like the dainty wisp of a bride I wished to be. Next stop was the minister’s house where I was to meet my family for a final luncheon, my last meal as a single chick.
As I drove up, I cried some more. Why did I feel so bad? Why would I be cursed with a migraine on today of all days? And why did God hate me so much that He would make it be 58 and raining? And why, most of all, did I care about such trivialities on such a momentous spiritual day? It was going to be fine; I knew that somewhere. Why did I have to have such negative aversive feelings?
I put a tape into the tape player of my car: Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet. Martha trained me as a life coach, and I think she’s hilarious and brave. Somehow I had a sense that her wry sense of humor might lift me out of my current pit of despair.
“Laugh 30 times a day,” she admonished. Minimum. If you need external stimulation, fine: rent some Christopher Guest videos or hang around your funniest friends. But more importantly, learn to laugh
“without any discernable cause. During my Joy Diet research, I was startled to learn that there is a legitimate system of yoga (like Hatha or Kundalini) that focuses almost completely on laughter. It’s called-I swear on my grandmother this is true—the Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha method. According to the literature, practitioners start this yogi strategy by learning how to laugh for at least a minute with no provocation whatsoever.”
And so, having nothing to lose and being alone in the car, I let it rip. I laughed from the deepest part of my belly, with the same fervor with which I would have practiced ashtanga yoga. And wouldn’t you know it? It was infectious and addictive. I continued to giggle the rest of the way up to Cummington.
I’ll never know for certain whether it was Yoga Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha or the fact that the sun came out a half hour before the ceremony, and that for the rest of the day it was 69 degrees and lovely, but my migraine and bad mood went away. My niece Amelia dropped rose petals before me as I walked down the aisle. My mother was my maid of honor. My father escorted me while my Aunt Jenifer played Schubert’s Ave Maria, singing like an angel. My beautiful, heartful, soulful groom, Tom, stood waiting for me. Tears streaming down both our faces, we were carried—or so it seemed—by the gentle humor and wisdom of the “big hearted” Stephen Philbrick, our minister, and by an old Shaker song I sang with Penny Schultz and my father. My whole family joined together on “Wild Mountain Thyme”; Dar sang “You Rise and Meet the Day,” and Michael Biegner read a poem he wrote for the occasion.
After we exchanged our rings (Stephen punning on the last lines of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which happens to feature my name,) Tom and I exited the church to the congregation singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
And then, Tom and I rung those church bells. I took hold of the rope and pulled with all my might. Dong! Went the bell. And the rope pulled me up, off my feet, high up above the ground, and there I hung, for just a second or two. Enough time for me to laugh and laugh.