Hereis a riddle.
Askmost people what they want out of life and they answer? Happy!
Commonboth in the amount of times you hear it and in how mundane the answer is, likesome beauty pageant contestant claiming holding hands will bring universalutopia. We know behind her fake smile hides a person who would spite hercompetition to win the crown given the chance. Like most contrarians, I had aproblem with the simple answer, happy. Most people find happy people annoyingand false. A roomful of happy people feels strange and a bit like there shouldan organ playing black notes while in the backroom are brain sucking outmachines making these people happy. Yet, many of us claim that is what we whatfor out lives.
Ithink, the tyranny of my mind, about this as my two year son rides a scooterbike down the halls of Ronald McDonald house. I am part of a Ministry groupthat goes down one a month to serve a dinner once a month to families withchildren in the hospital. I do it out of gratitude for our stay at the RonaldMcDonald House in Seattle during my son’s brain surgery almost two years ago.My son has been going with us as we serve for more than a year. He brings fun.He has fun, his gift.
So,here was my son, with joy on his face, flying through the hallways as wefinished cleaning up. Happy doesn’t come near describing his emotion. The mystery for me was what was the emotionthat my son showed? His tiny legs push and pump. He smiles and laughs as hegoes. Most of the everyone who sees him becomes filled with his same emotion.His emotion, unlike happiness, spread.
Isay most because there is one boy, same age as my son, who is distraught. It ishis scooter and he wants it back. I, the parent, step in and give the boy hisscooter back. My son complains, and, much to his credit, complies. Then, he andI, father and son. go off to play with another toy. We both soon regain thatsense of love, beyond happiness, in our playing together and being together.What was my son’s emotion?
So,if this is not happiness, then what is it? I think about what happiness is.Happiness is an industry. There is no shortage of books, seminars andtechniques promising to make you happy. There a whole shelf full of drugs thatpromises one pop and pop goes the sadness into an unreal well of happiness. Theword’s root betrays it. Dig to the bottom of it, and you find the word happycomes from the Old English word hap that translates into luck. Luck, a forcebeyond us, sweeps in and carries us away into lala land.
Luckand happiness depends on circumstances. Win the lottery, then you arehappy. Most of us won’t win the lottery,whether a biological, monetary or socially. We, as such, remain unhappy,unhappy because Lady Luck coughed in our faces. Hence, the industry that promisesto make us happy. We shell out our money and play the numbers on the fortunecookie. Happiness is luck. My sondancing does not depend on anything but his act. Scooter or no scooter he findsjoy.
Luckypeople do annoy us. Winning a job because you were at the right place at theright time and more importantly you had the right parent, makes them gloat andthe rest of us resentful. Add to this that lucky people are unaware their goodfortune is, that, good fortune. They think it comes from their hard work, andthis giving them license to lecture the rest of us on how to be happy. Luckypeople play a zero sum game. In the luck game: some win, some lose. Yet, as myson pedaled and giggled, those who saw him were not annoyed but joined in hisjoy.
Finallyand most damning as a life’s goal, happiness is unstable. I am be happy becauseI got a raise, but then next week I find that my son has been diagnosed with aserious condition that requires brain surgery. The winds of fortune are fickle.Whatever my son felt this emotion was resilant. I took him off the scooter toreturn it. He only momentarily stop his joy for a whine of protest, then it wasback to finding something to wonder about. Happy people are fickle. My son wasfilled with something else, but what to call it
Thenext morning found my answer on the radio. Wislawa Szymborska,, the greatpolish poet died. I love her poetry. As I heard the tribute to her, I followedher words down to answer to my riddle. I found my son’s world and a deepspiritual truth. Follow. Her poems are a celebration of life that can be bestunderstood by the word delight. Delight, that was it. Delight, finding thealways there light of simply being alive. Her poems always found delight withthe world. Delight spreads as it did as my son dances. When we go to feedparents who have a child in the hospital, we are delighted to be with them. Tofind delight in the world is beyond being happy, it is to bring wonder and aweto the everyday, and everyday there is enough happens to fill a thousand nightsworth of wonder.
Isaid a prayer of thanks for Wislawa Szymborska’s life. I left for workdelighted by my discovery.
NothingTwice by WislawaSzymborska
translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Nothing can ever happentwice.
In consequence, the sorryfact is
that we arrive hereimprovised
and leave without the chanceto practice.
Even if there is no onedumber,
if you're the planet'sbiggest dunce,
you can't repeat the classin summer:
this course is only offeredonce.
No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teachwhat bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the samekisses.
One day, perhaps some idletongue
mentions your name byaccident:
I feel as if a rose wereflung
into the room, all hue andscent.
The next day, though you'rehere with me,
I can't help looking at theclock:
A rose? A rose? What couldthat be?
Is it a flower or a rock?
Why do we treat the fleetingday
with so much needless fearand sorrow?
It's in its nature not tostay:
Today is always gonetomorrow.
With smiles and kisses, weprefer
to seek accord beneath ourstar,
although we're different (weconcur)
just as two drops of waterare.