"The Happiest Day"

One of my colleagues read this poem to me last week, on one of those exploding spring days. I don’t think it was just lilacs, though, that caused her to think of it. “Stop the camera . . . Are you happy?”

The Happiest Day
By Linda Pastan

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
And if it would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then . . .
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: Are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. jana says:

    I _love_ this poem Deborah!

    I wonder sometimes if we only really know what happiness is as we look back and realize that we were happy. My goal in life is to find happiness in every moment and not only in hindsight.

  2. Deborah says:

    Yeah — happy-in-retrospect is something I try to avoid.(As I’ve often been guilty of wanting to “wish away” time — till I got my driver’s license, till I left home, till finals were over, till I found the right man, . . .)

    I suppose that sometimes wishing away might be key to getting through a time (e.g. focusing on better days ahead), but this isn’t a poem about a “crisis” year. Just the every day kind of year.

  3. Caroline says:

    I love this poem too. I suffer from the same problem of not finding a lot of joy in the moment. I’m always stressed about something or other, or waiting for something to be done so that I can finally be happy. I’m trying to more actively take joy in what a wonderful life I truly have.

  4. annegb says:

    I love it, too. I have a whole huge hedge of lavendar lilacs on one side of my house, transplanted from my aunts house 26 years ago and this year they bloomed.

    I can smell and taste and feel this poem.

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