I recently heard Daniel Kahneman’s TED talk on experienced happiness vs. the memory of happiness, which I highly recommend. He says that the two don’t correlate much, so you could be experiencing lots of joy in daily life but your memory of it, or your story of it, will be quite different.
This talk inspired me to plunge deeper into the mundane experiences of my daily life, feel and embody them as much as I can. In the early morning when I open my eyes, the story of lack and sadness assails me every time; it has throughout my life. I don’t know why, and it’s not particularly relevant anymore. Instead I remind myself to thoroughly feel the warm shower in the morning. I nuzzle with Aussie for ten minutes when I come down and sit by her where she lies, on the futon in my office. When I stroke her, I’m not stroking Aussie, I’m not stroking a dog; I’m stroking my heart.
Yesterday morning, after days of humidity and heat, she and I drove to a store in Greenfield. The windows were wide open, Aussie’s head sticking out one of them, I could see her grinning in the sideview mirror, white teeth gleaming. For the first time in a long while a breeze blew through the windows, I inhaled, and re-remembered what gorgeous country roads these were. I was deeply happy.
And of course, the next morning, I awoke to the usual story of my life as lacking in different ways. In my case, at least, the contrast between experienced happiness and the memory or story of happiness couldn’t be starker.
Last night I came home from meeting with Jimena and immigrant families. They brought me homemade tamales and a dozen ears of corn picked that very afternoon. I ate the tamales and corn for dinner and thought to myself that it doesn’t get much better than this. I bring them food cards and cash, and they feed me.
Jimena uses these times to talk to them about their children. The local school system, like school systems all over the country, can’t decide about whether to open up to in-person learning or stay with distance learning, as it did this last spring, so it created surveys to be filled out by parents. Jimena translated them into Spanish, and since not all of the families are literate, she sits down with them and reviews the questions in Spanish as they pick up food cards from me:
What do you prefer, in-person or remote learning? (Remote learning is difficult for children without English. And while they were each given iPads and even have WIFI at very reduced rates for a while, they are crowded into small apartments, sometimes with four children in different corners of one room trying to participate in four different online classes.)
Can you do hybrid, or a combination of the two? (That requires lots of explanation.)
Are you comfortable with 10 feet distance surrounding your children? Six feet? Three feet?
Since we can’t fill up school buses, can you bring your kids to school if necessary? (Very tricky since many have no valid driving licenses, and if they’re stopped by police–forget it.)
What’s most important to you: the distance between children, how many children in a class, quality of communication between teacher and students, etc.?
I sit there, smile, try to joke, compliment women on their gorgeous masks or their children’s clothes. I’m not part of the team, and at the same time I am. I don’t speak Spanish and am not undocumented, but I’m a human being. As I get older, I feel my skin getting more porous, so that others’ feelings become a little my own, their pains echoing in me.
A short young woman arrived yesterday for a food card. Even wearing a mask, it was obvious that the left half of her face was paralyzed.
“Que paso?” I asked. I could see half her lip curved downwards and the rest of that side of the face swollen and rigid. For a brief moment I worried about a stroke.
She thought it was Lyme. It was getting worse and worse, only she has no medical insurance to see a doctor.
“Donde trabaha?” I asked her. Where do you work?
In Hadley, she says. That’s shorthand for the farms in Hadley, which means that she’s working under a hot, humid sun picking vegetables while her face becomes more paralyzed.
“What can she do?” I ask Jimena.
“The Community Health in Greenfield serves those without medical insurance. They do some procedures but not all.” She knows another place to call, and if they agree she’ll send the woman there.
I’m horrified. It’s one thing to know as a fact that many people have no health coverage in our wealthy country; it’s a whole other thing to see someone’s paralyzed face and realize she can’t get treatment even as she’s working.
When you fully experience things, it’s all there: the noisy, happy children doing remedial English with Jimena the previous morning, as if for just a few minutes Latin America arrived right here in New England, blazing with laughter, color, and enthusiasm; the fresh tamales and corn spilling out of the shopping bag; the woman with a paralyzed face getting sicker all the time.
You take it in unreservedly, unconditionally.
Please help this woman; help these immigrant families. I am going to visit my mother and have left $1,700 with Jimena to cover some needs over the next two weeks. My dear friend, Maggie, also volunteered to help out. Please let’s keep on going even as we arrive at the dead of summer,.
And I invite you, as you push that button or write a check, to really experience the generous act of giving. You know why? Because it’ll make you happy. Really. In that moment it’ll make you happy. You are giving unconditional sustenance to a family that has very, very little, for whom the current Congressional infighting about relief funds have no relevance because they won’t get a penny.
Take your time while doing this. Appreciate the feel of the computer key or the scrawl of the pen, the distance that shortens when we see ourselves in others and vice versa, the reaching out across space and time and sending help with the wind.
Next week I should have a second Donate to Immigrant Families button on this blog, connecting to separate PayPal and bank accounts. It’ll be more direct and transparent, and easier on me for sure. Meantime, you can still use the button below to help immigrant families. It will take you to PayPal and please write on the note: Food cards. Or else write a check to me and send to Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351 and write on the memo line: Food Cards.
Much love to all of you.