The boy on the edge of happiness is the title of a book of poetry by Matthew Hollis. I haven’t read the book, or what I am imagining to be a poem of the same name. Although I would like to. I came across a tweet by the Poetry Society saying that Matthew Hollis was a ‘terribly good poet’, so I looked him up. That’s when the title, ‘The boy on the edge of happiness’ resonated deeply. It brought into my awareness something that was on the edge of my awareness.
As a boy and a man I have lived on the edge of happiness. Why would you do that?
I have known happiness and at crucial times in my life it felt like it was taken away. So I never quite trusted it to stay around.
The first time was going to boarding school at the age of 6 3/4s for a term. We would have a day sometime during the term when your parents would take you out, called an exeat.
At the beginning of the day happiness would flood back. And my mum says I would chat to them, and be lively and excited. But as the day drew to a close, I would be quiet, not speak, just look at them with my eyes filling with tears, but without crying. Happiness was draining away, or being taken away.
In short happiness couldn’t be trusted, it was safer to live on the edge of happiness.
I remember later when we would fly out to Kenya for the holidays from the UK from another school. The first night in my bedroom in Kenya would be a strange one. I would wake up on that first morning of the holidays, as light streamed through the curtains with a sinking heart imagining I was still at school. Suddenly I would realise this was a different sort of light and I would be filled with a sense of elation – I was home.
The first night at boarding school reversed the process. I would awake imagining I was home, with a light heart, and then realise with a sinking feeling that I was back at school.
The title of Matthew Hollis’s book of poetry rang me like a bell. I was filled with the revelation that ever since those early experiences I had lived on the edge of happiness. Never quite letting myself enter in all its fullness the happiness that was there, in case it was taken away.
The reason for writing about these memories that came back was that I wondered how many other people are living quietly on the edge of happiness for similar reasons?
When my mum told me the story of the exeat she said it used to break her heart to have to let me go back to the boarding part of school. The title of a poem has given me a deep mindful insight. Poetry has this capacity.
Daniel Siegel says of poetry…’Hearing poetry feels integrative. The science of language and the brain reveals that while the left hemisphere specializes in linguistic language, the right takes a dominant role in words with ambiguous meaning. Also, the imagery evoked by poetry seems to more directly activate the primary visuospatial processes of our brains…’ (The Mindful Brain, p. 161)…poetry creates a mindful state.
I am just experimenting, right now, mindfully, with trying to enter into the full experience of happiness, moment by moment as it arises. I felt it today. A moment of happiness should not be dismissed. As William Blake says:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
There is a whole world in a single moment. Even a world of happiness.