It was the end of a long, August Sunday. The tree shadows had stretched to autumn lengths and there was a chill riding the breeze. We had just returned from a long car trip to the North Shore for the birthday party for a 4-year-old. Chaos reigned there – as do most parties for children under five.
The ride home was tumultuous with my daughters hungry and tired, complaining and crying most of the way. We prepared a rushed dinner and then came baths and bedtime routines.
I was exhausted. In the kitchen, the orange gloaming streaming in through the sheer curtains, I methodically prepared sauce for pasta. I was on auto pilot when the bark of voices from my backyard broke my reverie. I moved to the screen door and stared out at a group of college-age men sitting on the roof of my neighbor’s garage.
There were six of them. Four of them were on the top of the roof in t-shirts, shorts, and bare feet. One of the t-shirts was for the band Green Day. They were drinking cans of beer. The other two sat on my neighbor’s back deck in the shade of the garage looking up at their friends.
They were loud, boisterous. An occasional profanity surfaced.
I was instantly annoyed – protective of my peace and quiet. My first thought was for my daughters who had just drifted off to sleep. Now I had to deal with a group of immature boys sitting on a garage roof, being loud (in only the way young men can be loud) and laughing and swilling cheap beer.
I knew my neighbors – a quiet middle-aged couple – were on vacation, but I recognized their son among the young men. Great, I thought, just great. A party of drunken college kids right next door.
I had a sudden urge to whip open the screen door and start threatening police action if they didn’t shut-up. My blood was boiling and I was thinking about how inconsiderate they were being – how obnoxious to be climbing on garage roofs and telling off-color jokes and laughing like hyenas.
My hand gripped the door handle when the image of Carl Sandburg loomed in my mind’s eye. Suddenly, I was reciting his poem Happiness.
I asked professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me
what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as thought I
was trying to fool with them.
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their
women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.
My anger dissipated and guilt took its place. I stood there behind the screen door and watched and listened to these young men. Sandburg had captured the scene for me perfectly. These young men were so damn happy – so carefree and crackling in the electric glow of their friendship. The prospect of spending a night in each other’s company drinking beer and telling stories made them practically giddy.
Thoughts bombarded me then. I saw like aged young men fighting in Iraq and who probably wished they were straddling a garage roof on a beautiful August dusk in New England, clowning with friends and drinking cold beer. Why would I want to deprive these young men of this prospect? Did I really want to intrude and deflate this evening that had the makings of a wonderful memory for them? A night they might one day think back on when they were my age and having a stressful day?
I also thought about the curse of growing older. How the demands of career and family often destroy the ability to just be – to just live in the moment and do silly, irreverent things like climb up and sit on a garage roof. Shouldn’t we all do that once in a while? Throw convention to the wind and risk the scornful looks of our neighbors so we can climb up on a garage roof and drink a beer?
“Neighbor,” one of the young men said.
They quieted immediately, all of their young faces looking warily at the stranger behind the screen door.
“Sorry,” my neighbor’s son said, “Are we being too loud?”
I smiled at them. “Not at all. Enjoy yourself.”
I went back to making my pasta sauce, but suddenly the day didn’t seem so long or so stressful anymore. I felt lighter, adrift on the orange light painting my kitchen, and thankful that the happiness from next door was kind enough to visit my home after a long, August Sunday.
Labels: Carl Sandburg, Poetry