There are but few moments in life that will truly bring joy to the tortured human soul. Among them are winning a Nobel Peace Prize, curing cancer, or eating the last of your roommate’s ice cream and blaming it on his boyfriend. Although these moments are rare, they allow us a small glimpse of true happiness in the face of our bleak realities.
But without sadness, we would not have pleasure. Imagine leaving the Reg at 5:37 pm, Thursday of Finals Week. You’ve turned in your last paper three and a half hours before the deadline. The air is unseasonably warm and you have two hours of daylight still ahead of you. This is the happiest you will ever be. After this moment is over, nothing will ever again carry you away from the perpetual dismal malaise so completely. Here are five moments that will come close, but never surpass, the unadulterated jubilance of leaving the Reg early.
1. The birth of your first child. You will cradle little Rebecca in your arms after undergoing the ancient pains of childbirth, connecting you to every creature that has ever been born and is yet to be birthed. You’ll name her after your own mother in the hope that she will be as strong and beautiful a woman as her. She will grasp your finger in her tiny, tiny hand and you will feel at peace—but not as at peace as you did when you left the Reg early that one afternoon.
2. Driving your favorite car on the Autobahn. You’ll run into a drunk Russian oligarch in a small German bar. He’ll give you the keys to his Bugatti and tell you to go wild in his broken English. You’ll go fast, so so fast. But it won’t be better than stepping out of that concrete misery hole as a college student.
3. Winning $12 on a scratch-off lottery ticket. Stopping by the convenience store on a whim to buy a chocolate rose for your beloved, you’ll decide to purchase a $2 ticket. After celebrating your good luck with the clerk, you’ll drop your winnings in the “Leave a Penny, Take a Penny” container for the next person. You’ll feel happy, but the shadow of what you once had will tinge the moment with a faint melancholy.
4. Catching a foul ball at the Cubs 2092 World Series. The Cubs will make it back to the World Series for the first time since 2016. Dying of cancer at almost 100, you’ll attend your last game surrounded by your family. The Cubs will be up 2 runs in Game Seven, bottom of the ninth. You’ll see Kris Bryant’s great, great-grandchild sling a foul ball your way. You’ll reach out and catch it. Then, you’ll feel complete. Almost as complete as you leaving the Reg early in 2018.
5. Reuniting with your first love at your 55th high school reunion and recarving your initials in that old wooden bench by the football stadium. You’ll see them across the gym of your old high school. They’ll be just as beautiful as the day you took them to prom in 2015, if not more so. Your spouse will have passed peacefully three years before, and after taking time to grieve and heal, you will be ready to find love again. Your high school sweetheart will be unmarried, too, and you will reminiscence about the first time you said “I love you” under the bleachers while Thad Benson scored the winning touchdown at homecoming. You’ll say, “Let’s go back to that field, one last time,” and they’ll agree before admitting you still give them butterflies. For the first time in fifty-five years, you two will kiss, passionately, deeply, like high schoolers who have yet to experience the true miseries of life. They’ll pull out the pocket knife you gave them at graduation and say, “I’ve held on to this. I guess I didn’t know how to say goodbye.” You’ll carve your initials into the bench you’re sitting on and kiss again. For a moment you will think this is the happiest you’ve ever been. You are wrong.