It was late afternoon when I sat across the river in Hoi An. Amongst a crowd of intrigued Viet, I eyed Tony squatted with his camera. It was the middle of April. Just behind him, signs of Summer loomed across the horizon. I watched as locals identified me.
A hippy. I lifted a leg into the only yoga pose I know aside from downward dog. Nodding to Tony, I plunged into a cartwheel. The kids with conical hats and adorable smiles gasped. No, an acrobat! I raised my head the same way King did when he spoke I Have a Dream. I thought I heard someone shout inspirational! Perhaps it was just me. The cynic drinking Vietnamese coffee assured me it was.
A tired tourist, she was sick of her red hairline. A gift from the straining sun, she didn’t even pretend to like it. She had ventured to Vietnam for ice in her beverage, unequipped for the beam in her eyes. Each day, a mere two hours beyond her hotel room. She’ll return to call herself well-travelled. She stood there to call me self-obsessed. People will assume she doesn’t speak, but her pout makes her the most outspoken of all.
I think she’s looking for something too deep. She’s doing that stupid fucking yoga pose every morning and getting nowhere. Her same straight smile meets kind bus drivers and rude kids. She’s wearing gypsy pants like all tourists; she’ll buy bracelets too. It’s insignificant. Let them offer you a spinning top, lady. She’ll talk to the Viet like they’re silly, eat toast at the breakfast buffet and complain that it tastes different. I try to catch her eye, but the distance between us only grows as she turns away unimpressed.
It’s in moments like these, I am angry at Thomas Jefferson.
I think how dare he so impulsively insert the word ‘pursuit’ in the Declaration of Independence, and imply that we may never attain happiness. Who signed their name as he instated the concept like a new foreign policy? A peace agreement that our very nature will stop us from reaching? I blame him for her fleeting smile. She’s learnt from Jefferson that it should be this hard.
People often question how I’m so happy. And the difference between me and the girl across the river is not that I am still grudging against the third U.S president (though this too shall pass). The difference comes down to my decision. I don’t get out of bed every morning for Jefferson’s ‘pursuit’. I do it for my own. It’s titled Happiness, and I haven’t written it down, because it’s not something I’m waiting to check off. When I laugh out loud, I know I’m happy. And if I cry later, I know it’s temporary. Because happiness is not a china set I won’t touch until I leave home. It’s something I’m going to satisfy in now. Call me selfish, even ignorant, but I refuse to look up and down the size of my happy, and deem it insufficient by another person’s standards.
Smile a toothy smile at a stranger, and with me, proudly label it happiness. If there is no other reason but the fact that we make mistakes – and it’s hysterical the way we do -we should laugh whole-heartedly. If people like Jefferson tell us to quieten down and focus on the prize, I’ll stand beside you to retort. We shouldn’t be afraid of sharing when we’re happy. We shouldn’t be afraid of what makes us this way either.
Perhaps, if Jefferson were here now, he’d change his mind. He’d nod his head as we told him this. We’ve decided not to become our bad days, so that the word ‘pursuit’ doesn’t become our lives.
Images shot in Vietnam, by Tony Collins