“The Happiest Day”

I read recently that the mind is like Velcro with negative experiences and Teflon with positive ones — latching onto what’s bad while letting the good slide away. That made me think of today’s poem by Linda Pastan.

The Happiest Day

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 they 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 the 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.

Linda Pastan

I first discovered this poem years ago when both my parents were still alive. It takes on new meaning reading it years later when both are gone. I can now see that those days with them in the background were some pretty happy days indeed.

  • What small irritations are you dwelling on, and how do they keep you from seeing joy in your life?
  • Fast forward ten years. If you were to look back on your current life, what joys might you say you were missing?
  • In what ways is today your happiest day?


“The Happiest Day” by Linda Pastan from Heros in Disguise, 1991 Copyrighted material used for educational purposes.

Photo: Flowering Dogwood, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, 2017

1 Comment

  1. Love the repeated mention of lilacs in this one, and especially the line “…the youngest as new as the new smell of the lilacs”. Takes me back. This poem is a good reminder to appreciate the here and now. My goals are to live in and appreciate the present; remember the good parts of the past; stay excited about the future. Easier said than done some days!

    Liked by 1 person

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