In the Quiet Moments of a Crackling Fire

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Once a year my family, including our smelly dog Cha-cha, pack up my mom’s 2005 Toyota Prius and drive to Michigan for a week-long family reunion with the Murphy clan. The Murphy Family is your traditional Irish Catholic bundle of craziness, debauchery, and love. My mother, Eileen Murphy, is one of nine children, a twin, squeezed in between Kelle, Kathleen, Colleen, Paul, Joe, Johnny, Mary, and Patrick. My aunts and uncles are sprawled across the country and reunite for seven days each year to reconnect with their brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, and in-laws. Throughout the week, the Murphy compound is full of bathing-suit clad teenagers, burley Murphy animals, generous spreads of fresh meat, and a wide array of strong, vulgar language. Oh, did I mention there are 27 cousins?

Each day is spent swimming, kayaking, running, biking, playing football, and generally creating a sense of mass hysteria. Each night is spent negotiating the power struggle between all of Murphy women over food selection and responsibility, while the underage cousins sneak beers and swigs of vodka under the noses of their unknowing (or knowing) parents. After dinner, the food-washing assembly line forms and the cousins run train on dirty dishes. Although it is a near impossible feat, some cousins do manage to evade such duties with careful precision and planning.

Then comes dessert, a favorite word among this family. We all love chocolate, and when I say love, I mean cherish, adore, obsess, over chocolate. So, before you get a chance to digest the garlic pasta and Italian sausage you just inhaled at dinner, get ready to take some chocolate cookies and creamy smores to the FACE.

This year, on one particularly comfortable (and chocolate filled) night, with the entire family huddled around the fire, there sparked discussion of our fears. I proclaimed to all of my family, “It is LITERALLY my worst fear to get killed in my house….Or eaten by a shark.” (For some reason I seem to channel valley girl intonations when I hear myself in quotations. This is not at all the case.)

We then proceeded to go around the fire and share our greatest fears. There was the occasional fear of the dark and drowning but what struck me most was the fear of my cousin, Sean*. He was a little rough around the edges. He had been to military school and was often at odds with this mother and father, my aunt and uncle. In the quiet moments of the crackling fire, he shared with us his fear – he was afraid of never being truly happy. His words were spoken softly although soaking with vulnerability and uncertainty.

There was a pause, momentary contemplation followed his confession. The silence was very real and very palpable.

Sean was brave enough to share a fear that I believe exists in all of us. I recently read an article in Psychology Today that discussed the quintessential differences between happy people and unhappy people. The article highlighted the belief that truly being happy does not come in the form of an emotion but rather a state of being. Although there are underlying genetic and environmental considerations when determining one’s happiness, we as people, we as individuals, control 40% of our own happiness.

“Being happy” is not something that is going to happen TO us.  When evaluating your life, you cannot simply set a date upon which your happiness will begin. “Being happy” is something that we choose, something that we make a priority. Happiness lives in the small, everyday, ordinary moments.  Appreciating a passing hello, a damn good cup of coffee, and the peaceful 10 minutes walking your dog before work are the staples of genuine happiness.

However, not everyday is filled with these potentially joyful moments of appreciation. There are sad days, hard days, and long days that are both emotionally and physically taxing. How can you be happy when surrounded, even momentarily by such negativity? Identifying and negotiating these experiences are essential to your happiness. Feeling sadness, despair, and hurt is necessary because with it produces an deeper understanding of yourself and your livelihood. My aunt recently lost her husband to acute pancreatic cancer. She lost her soul mate. Two months separated the time from which he was diagnosed to his death. Today, my aunt continues to go to work, maintain meaningful relationships with family and friends, and smile. She eludes a light that is full of genuine happiness because she experiences and conquers her sadness everyday. 

All of this is easier said than done. I myself have difficulty following my own advice but I know there is truth behind my words. When you choose to live and love with the utmost sincerity, you will find happiness, you will be happy. 

Sean boldly confessed that he feared never being truly happy, but in these quiet moments of the crackling fire, I knew that happiness was no longer an idea, but rather a reality. I was surrounded by people who loved me and for whom I loved. We would be sharing chocolate bars and stories of adventure, love, and loss for many years to come at the Murphy Family Cottage.

*Names have been changed.

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