“Despereaux squared his shoulders. He had made a decision. He would do as the threadmaster had suggested. He would be brave for the princess.
Even if (reader, could it be true?) there was no such thing as happily ever after.”
The above passage marks the end of chapter 11 in The Tale of Despereaux. As I put the bookmark on the page, Mia snorted. “Of course there is,” she said, referring, of course, to the narrator’s suggestion that happily ever after doesn’t exist. And then after a pause: “Isn’t there, Mommy?”
“Sure,” I said. “Of course.”
I said it without pause or trepidation. I said it wholeheartedly and convincingly. I said it because I want desperately for her to hold on to that innocence, to revel in that space of black and white, for as long as possible, and so I resisted the urge to add a caveat.
My husband has accused me before of being a pessimist but I think I’m just the opposite. I can’t stop myself from feeling emotions anymore than I can stop my cheeks from feeling the bite of a winter wind. But just as I am quick to turn to the darkness, to carry it and protect it until I can find a way to release it, so to do I seek the light. I can see this in Mia already — the way she honors the dark with the light, the revelation that there can’t be one without the other.
That caveat that wanted to slip from my tongue was this:
Sometimes, Mia, happiness isn’t black and white, and it isn’t ever final. If life became one even, pleasing note of happiness, it would cease to be happy. Anyway, life is best lived in the muted shades of gray, turning everything over to examine it on all sides, to ask questions and to answer questions and to push ourselves and to sometimes listen and be still and other times speak up even when it isn’t easy and to advocate for our beliefs (and the beliefs of others if they align with our moral codes) and to never stop growing. None of this is especially easy or even “happy”, but I promise you, Mia, your life will be fuller and you will be more fulfilled and you will start to construct your own definition of happiness and you will revise that definition as you go. Happily ever after will no longer be a goal or an endpoint because you can choose happiness wherever you are in life. Even if the glimmer of light is dwarfed by surrounding darkness, choose happiness.
Someday I will tell her this. Someday.