Monday, December 13, 2010
It’s Not Happiness or Its Pursuit
I see this picture of my grandson Cameron, and I melt. I feel and have felt a great joy with this child, one that continues to surprise me. The introverted writerly type who’d rather be upstairs writing or reading a book is helpless in the hands of his grandson.
This child puts joy in my heart. I can rejoice daily as to what God has created here, and the blessing he has given me, my wife and my family.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He was edited, to be sure. (How am I sure, you ask? Because so many of the signers were lawyers, that’s how. Lawyers can’t leave anything written alone.) Whether Jefferson came up with the phrase or had it edited for or suggested to him, there is an idea embedded in the Declaration that we somehow think is taken straight from the Bible:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
My biggest problem here is the third “unalienable right,” although to be fair, it’s not a simple “right to happiness” but “the pursuit of happiness.” And I’m sure the idea of happiness had some slightly different meaning then than now. But happiness as a goal – or a right conferred by my Creator – is, I think, wrong. It’s a fleeting thing, this happiness we chase, and we can somehow manage to justify all manners of bad behavior as we pursue it. Yes, I know Thomas Jefferson said we could, but that still doesn’t make it right or admirable.
We yearn for something that we understand as happiness, some hole at the center of our soul that we know will be filled with the right car or house or piece of jewelry or boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or vacation or income level or college degree or hairstyle or wardrobe or achievement. And if we get what we absolutely know will make us happy, we discover something – the hole is still there. Happiness is ephemeral, a piece of gossamer, a mist that disperses as soon as we touch it.
My grandson, I’ve learned, doesn’t make me happy. He makes me thankful for receiving such a blessing. He makes me more loving because he pulls love out of me (rather effortlessly on his part, too). And he makes me rejoice, because he has added more joy to my life.
To rejoice is to understand and to acknowledge that I am not the center of my life; I am not what my life is all about. I’m part of something larger, something I can only gain the merest glimpse of, but enough to know that it is there and it is huge.
I look at my grandson, and I ask, what is it about this child that makes me smile? It’s not because he holds a piece of me in his DNA, and that somehow through him I will live forever. I think that it’s more that he’s a symbol, a symbol of hope, a reminder of another baby that brought hope to the world and all generations.
And for that hope, I truly do rejoice.
To see more posts on “rejoice,” visit the One Word Blog Carnival, hosted by Peter Pollock (and Bridget Chumbley, who’s on sabbatical). The links will be live after 9:30 p.m. central time tonight.
Photograph of Cameron Young by Stephanie Young. Cameron said it was OK to use it.