Today’s episode of “Radiolab” on National Public Radio, replayed from December of last year, related to happiness and its definition. The show explored the idea of bliss, including a fascinating story about a man named Bliss. Here’s the show, well worth listening to. While I listened, I contemplated my own moments of bliss.
In June of 1982, I gave birth to Doug, our first child. I had a pretty easy labor and delivery, but suffered some nasty moments immediately after. I needed quite a bit of stitching, and unfortunately the novocaine didn’t take. Ouch. Because I needed some time to heal, I spent an extra day or two in the hospital. Back then, our Canton hospital was still a little resistant to “rooming in,” the reasonable and humane policy allowing mom and baby to sleep in the same room. For the first night or two, the hospital decreed that Doug spend the night in the nursery. Ironicallly, this separation created a favorite, fond memory that drifted into my mind as I listened to the radio today.
Night would fall, they’d remove Doug to the nursery, time would pass, and I would at last barely drift off to sleep. Then someone would rustle the curtain surrounding my bed, and a nurse’s soft voice would gently awaken me. For a second, I’d inwardly groan about my interrupted sleep. Then, as my eyes opened and I sat up, I’d gradually realize that I was receiving a great gift. The baby was here! I would have precious minutes alone with that warm, soft little package. Usually, he’d be too sleepy to nurse, but I’d be wide awake and completely focused. For those few minutes, blissful.
When Margaret was born a few years later, the powers-that-be hustled us home, out of the hospital, the day after her birth. I had similar blissful moments, though, as the first weeks and months passed. Like most babies, Margaret had a fussy period in the long evenings before bedtime. I paced in a circle around our living room with her–that warm tiny-baby package again–resting on my shoulder, tucked into my neck. My lullaby of choice was often James Taylor’s “Only a Dream in Rio,” from the album “That’s Why I’m Here.” Oddly enough, these difficult nights when it was hard to get her to sleep provided some of my sweetest mom memories.
One more memory popped into my head, this one from much further back. My dad was a paraplegic, and I always hoped he’d regain the use of his legs, even though I understood, intellectually, that this was impossible. Blowing out my birthday candles or throwing a penny in a fountain, I always wished that Dad would walk again. Then, when I was in 10th grade, my dad spent almost a year in a New York hospital having surgery for bedsores. During this time, I entertained the fantasy that his paraplegia would be healed while he was gone. I knew it couldn’t happen, but I prayed for it constantly.
One day when I got home from school, my mom said my dad was coming home, and we could pick him up at the airport. Maybe I actually knew he was coming home–that makes more sense–but in my memory I was surprised by the news. I remember sitting in the car as we pulled out of the driveway, realizing I should be sad. After all, my dad was returning prematurely. He wasn’t healed. He was coming home still in a wheelchair. But I wasn’t sad. I was so happy we were going to see him again. I was so happy he would be back home. I was conscious, sitting in the car, that I felt blissful, and I’ve never forgotten the feeling.
When have you been blissful? Describe the moment.