Cinderella married the prince, attended by all her woodland friends and congratulated by the entire kingdom.
And they lived happily ever after.
They really did. Happiness stuck with them all their days.
But he had to admit it didn’t really look like he thought it would.
She was wonderful, of course. Lovely and intelligent and kind and, by some miracle, in love with him and not just with his crown. Who wouldn’t be happy with a wife like that?
It’s just that happiness, it turned out, was so much work.
They had hopes and dreams, plans for what they wanted to build in their kingdom. They wanted to see to it that their kingdom was just, that everyone was treated equally and had all their needs provided for. They wanted to see to it that their kingdome was beautiful, with roads in good repair and green spaces available to all and art of all kinds being created often.
So they worked tirelessly to learn to know their people, to create fair laws, to set up systems to provide for the poor, to patronize artists, to fund the building of roads and parks. It was happy work. They could be together. They could end each day with a sense of accomplishment. Their people loved them.
It was also endless work. No matter how many injustices they righted, there were always more that had been missed. No matter how many buildings they restored, there were always more that were crumbling. At times it was hard not to despair.
Of course, even in this sense of forever incompleteness, he had her by his side, so in spite of the nagging sense of failure, his life was still, in its essence, happy.
Then came the children.
Of course, they had children, first of all for love but also to have a new generation to carry their dreams and accomplishments on into the future. And the children were wonderful. They were a constant source of joy and pride. They added new depths to the happiness of life.
It’s just that children, it turned out, were so much work.
They needed care every day, of course, but that was only the beginning. Their every lovely quality had a corresponding pitfall that must be faced on a daily basis. The boy, so spirited, so determined, so hardworking, could be stubborn and willful and disdainful of others. The girl, so creative, so luminous, could be thoughtless and careless of others. Their emotions, so intense and powerful, were a force to be reckoned with, a force that could be turned to good or to destruction.
So their parents worked tirelessly to show love, to teach restraint, to model a mature life. It was happy work. They could be together. They could see the slow progress of good in their children’s lives. Their children loved them and were happy.
It was also exhausting work. Though some days ended in a sense of accomplishment, many ended with a sense of failure. A good many days never ended at all, but extended straight through the night. This did not bring out the best in either the prince or Cinderella. For every charged moment successfully navigated, there was a corresponding one that left them all in doubt. And there would be no end to these moments. They stretched out to the horizon in endless years of dangerous waters.
Of course, even in this sense of high stakes, of walking a tight rope above a pit of alligators, he had her by his side, so in spite of the nagging worries, his life was still, completely, happy.
It’s just that happiness was not the same as bliss. Happiness emcompassed highs and lows. Happiness grew up amidst anxiety and discouragement. Happiness dripped with sweat.
He wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
For this happiness was not just a fairy-tale illusion. This happiness was real. This happiness was built to last.