Day 22


long beach island 035When I was twenty-seven, my future mother-in-law told me the secret to a happy life. I’d been living in the city for several years, and had been in therapy for almost as long. I’d paid a lot of money to a strange woman named Kay, who saw patients in her living room where she kept three cats and a bird. Kay once wore sunglasses through our entire session, because she hadn’t had time to put on her makeup.  Nevertheless, I’d entrusted my future happiness to Kay. 

As I was fairly unhappy when I first consulted her, and fairly anxious and pessimistic about the future of my happiness and the happiness of my future, I was earnest and faithful to Kay’s advice and wisdom. I recounted my dreams, recited my parents’ failings and short-comings, and wrote long, detailed notes to my “higher power,” describing the future I wanted for myself. 

That future looked something like this: Laurie is fifty years old. She lives in a nice older house in a pretty nice town and has a wonderful intelligent, neurotic husband who is an attorney. She’s a published novelist and freelance writer, and she has two smart, lovely children, a boy and a girl. She has good friends who she sees often, and her many interests include reading, writing, travelling, photography, and psychology. She’s happy with her life.

As you know, dear reader, that future did not come to pass. I didn’t marry a lawyer, but a book salesman. And he wasn’t neurotic: he was a jock. And his mother’s secret to happiness?

“Exercise every day.”  It was sometime in the late 80s when Rosemarie shared her wisdom with me.  “The secret to a happy life is to get plenty of exercise every day.”

I almost fell over laughing.

I distinctly recall I had a vacuum in my hand, and my husband-to-be was lying on our couch with fresh stitches from an emergency appendectomy.  Rosemarie had flown in to see her son during his recuperation. I didn’t know her very well, but I knew her well enough to know that she was upbeat, talkative, energetic, optimistic. And, I thought, just a tad naive.

“The secret to a happy life is not exercise,” I told Frank, after his mother had gone home. Then I wrote another check to my therapist, and went to sleep so I could remember my dreams.

Now I walk every day. I play tennis, practice yoga, swim in the summer, kayak, bike, and sometimes run. Just this afternoon I spent an hour outside raking the leaves and acorns off my front lawn. And that was after my hour walk in Mills Reservation.

In the past month, no less than three women have asked the secret to my happiness.

“Exercise,” I told them. “I exercise every day  And I try to be outside as much as possible.”

I don’t know if they believed me. I know I didn’t believe Rosemarie. 

But little by little, with a jock for a husband (and a jocky daughter, too), and my mother-in-law as a model,  I’ve steadily found ways to build fitness into my life.  I’ve made dear friends through exercise. I’ve bonded with my Melissa on the track. And little by little, I’ve become a happy person.

It’s my birthday today. And I have something important to say: thank you, Rosemarie. You were right.