The 4th day of the new year is winding down. A couple fingers of bourbon. Leif Vollebekk singing Cairo Blues. Two dogs vying for heat-run space and my attention. A crockpot full of brisket filling the kitchen like the recitation of a long-simmering poem. My wife will be home from work soon. The kids are with their mom. And I’m sitting in the midst of everything thinking about everything. Writing some stuff down.
Earlier this morning I dropped off a dear old friend at the airport who I was stationed with in Germany. He flew in from Portland on a last minute invite and serendipitous timing to visit and celebrate New Years with us. The last time we saw each other was in 2010 when I flew out to Portland to meet him and fish the Fall, Dechutes, and Metolius Rivers together. Prior to that was 1993 when my tour in Germany (and our tenure as roommates) ended and my boots pointed toward Ft. Benning, Georgia for my next duty station. We were teenagers. Army Privates who were a long way from home. A few of us became close friends, as happens when the world is suddenly far bigger than you’ve known and you need to rely on others to help keep your shit straight. Thankfully, he and I have managed to actually stay connected beyond Facebook likes and comments on pictures of kids, fish, or new vehicles.
During his visit, Josh reminded me of the substance of our late night Pendleton whisky talks from my 2010 trip west. We spent two cold April days up to our nuts fly fishing in unproductive water and two cold April nights crowding a riverside campfire before climbing into a thin nylon tent and 30-below fart-sacks, and then a couple better days of fishing and nights lounging in a yurt at Tumalo State Park outside of Bend during a snow storm. I wasn’t happy in work or my marriage, and wasn’t very present as a dad with my three kids. I hadn’t been for a while. He was trying to navigate a divorce and the intricacies of a tough dating scene while being a great dad to his (then) 6 year old boy.
We were back in a world far bigger that we’d known from both a personal and a camping-in-Umpqua-National-Forest standpoint, and needed to lean on each other to keep our shit straight again. We bared our souls and spilled our guts. We listened and empathized. We raised glasses to the things that we loved and middle fingers to everything that was wrong. We both just wanted to be happy, and find an even keel. On the last day of our trip we hiked up to the headwaters of the Metolius, a small garden of quiet, unassuming springs in the shadow of Black Butte, and Josh asked me this question: why don’t you just do what you need to do to be happy?
That question started the atrophied wheels of my motivated, idealistic, hungry-for-life younger self in motion. Far more than I understood at the time. Over the next six years it sparked my move to freelance, inspired Deliberate Life, helped me come to terms with ending my marriage, and strengthened my love and involvement with my kids, family, and friends. It also led me to a place (mentally/emotionally/physically) where I was ready to meet the woman who I just married this past August.
When Amanda and I started dating and sharing photos on Instagram we created the hashtag #theyearofhappiness to accompany all the big and small moments we captured and celebrated in our life (it seems to have caught on a little). And even though we’re well outside of that first year, it still lives on. It lives on because the year of happiness is not a finite period of time. It’s a state-of mind and being. It’s a reminder that you can, in fact, do what you need to do to be happy, and that we found each other because of our individual pasts, not in spite of them. Happiness is a choice that we are all capable of making.
I was extremely sad and nostalgic on the drive home from the airport. Saying goodbye to a brother after so short and meaningful a visit is never easy. The car was packed with the ghosts of the full expanse of our shared experiences, meandering pasts and mindful todays, our choices and the failures and successes born of them. We had so much more to say, so much more ground to cover than time available. But I’m grateful that we’ve stayed in touch and that Josh was here with us to close out the end of this particular year of happiness, especially since he played a significant role in making it possible. I know we’ll be making a point of not letting so much time pass before our next visit.
To that end, I wish you all #theyearofhappiness many, many times over. Hashtag the shit out of every one of them.