I had big plans for Rio.
I was going to sprawl my body out, drink in hand, on the white sandy beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.
I was going to shake my groove thing to a Samba beat in Lapa…
and marvel at the enormous lily pads, the mini-orquids and the colorful Amazonian flora at the Jardin Botanica.
I was going to climb the famous Sugar Loaf.
And, lastly, but not least of all, we were going to renew our vows here at the Cristo Redentor.
Of course I was going to do all of these things and more. We were in RIO DE FREAKIN JANEIRO. Home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A frequent top of the list contender for most beautiful city, most beautiful beaches, most beautiful people– and we were there at this cultural gem at the perfect season.
But plans and promises were made and not kept. I made bad decisions based on bad information. Our time was cut short. And the one day we actually set out as a family to try and see the Cristo Redentor resulted in nothing but three highly stressful hours of driving with a screaming toddler in back, many unholy words cursed at Christ Almighty, and no redemption whatsoever.
But, really, the details don’t matter.
The point is that sometimes you don’t get what you want. Not even a little bit. And I was woefully upset about it. In fact, I broke down in a sad wash of poor-me tears.
The irony is that I had just had a conversation with our Argentine friend Guillermo a few nights before about happiness. I argued that a constructive perspective is key in cultivating it–and yes, it should be actively cultivated. He argued that happiness has become a mindless obsession of the masses and people have the right, perhaps an obligation, to be sad–this coming from a sixty-one year old man who still says he “suffers immensely” over his mother’s death fourteen years ago. Mama mia! He really walks his talk.
His spouse, Paula, a lively Brazilian woman with a warm smile and an even better laugh, sums it up perfectly: He is Tango; she is Samba. And, together, they dance an interesting dance not too unlike the one Tree and I perform.
I conceded that in Western culture we are obsessed with a maladapted idea of happiness, to the point of overmedicating ourselves to avoid uncomfortable feelings, and I even contributed to his argument by acknowledging that a shit ton of great art, music and poetry has risen up from the dark depths of angst and depression.
To counter these formidable points, however, I posited the often great attitude of people suffering a terminal illness. It seems when we know definitively that we have very limited time left on this planet, we realize that we can’t afford to let sadness steal our remaining opportunities to experience love, pleasure and joy. We want to feel good while we still can.
But, I continued, shouldn’t we learn this lesson without the terminal prognosis, since, in reality, aren’t all of our prognosis terminal? Most of us may not know when we’re going to die, but we know for certain we will.
I thought of this as I was furtively crying behind the bathroom door a few days later, but it only made me more sad: I could get run over by a truck tomorrow and I would never know Rio!!!
So there I was blubbering away, cultivating lots of self-pity but only in front of Soleil because she’s too young to say the words “big fat hypocrite,” when she looked at me and said with an exaggerated sad face, “Triste. Mama llorando. You okay?” [Translation: Sad. Mama crying. You okay?”]
That did it. I stopped immediately. Not because I thought, Oh no! I shouldn’t cry in front of my child, I might scar her with my salty eye water. That’s the kind of nonsense that turns mommies into superheroes, and there’s nothing make-believe about being an emotionally present parent. My daughter needs to know that I’m just like her: Human. Sometimes we get sad, and it’s okay to cry. Only then will she learn how to process her own emotions, the good the bad and the not so pretty.
No, the reason I stopped crying was because for the past month, I’ve been working on identifying and expressing feelings with Soleil. Happy, sad, surprised, scared, angry. You get the picture.
And here she did it. I expressed a feeling, and not only did she identify it, she showed me loving concern. Holy shit! I thought. That means I did it! Or rather, I’m doing it! I’m raising a real HUMAN. One with tenderness and the desire to care for others. So what if I flunked Rio and I’m a total embarrassment to the overland community. I’m getting an A+ in “Teaching Compassion.”
“Yes, Soleil. Mama’s okay. Thank you for asking.” Then she gave me a hug and a kiss that made me cry again, but this time with tears of gratitude and joy.
I decided then that I was done being sad about Rio. Even though my feelings were totally justifiable and okay to have, I didn’t want to waste any more time having them. What’s the point? I won’t accomplish anything with my disappointment or misery, and what a loss it would be if I got run over by a truck tomorrow and didn’t celebrate this far greater success, one that will “leave the world a bit better” than before.
And then at the last minute, Soleil and I did manage to get out and have a little fun. Paula and her daughter Caroline took us to the beach near their house in Recreios Bandeirantes. We drank aguas de cocos and caipirinhas, played in the sand, and watched as the Brazilians enjoyed their day at the beach. (Thank you ladies for a wonderful day!)