I’ve been hearing the word “happiness” a lot lately in various venues: movies, advertisements, the bestseller list. Even a radio program dedicates a whole hour every week to the subject itself.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to think about big issues and ideas – especially when so much of the world quibbles with small problems most every day.
The problem I have, though, is in defining and understanding what part it has in my life. Afterall, what exactly is “happiness”?
I don’t want to describe it as a smile on my face or a temporary good feeling that ripples though my body on payday. Those might be happy moments, but from my perspective, “happiness” is far more than a temporary thrill. It’s not less than that but rather much more. No, “happiness” is a product of a life well lived; it is to see something in totality as “good; it is to enjoy a spirit of contentment.
Growing up, I remember reading and enjoying the comic strip Peanuts. The lovable loser, Charlie Brown, used to say that “happiness is a warm puppy” and everyone would sigh. Looking back on that, I now realize that what Charlie Brown was saying was that, in reality, happiness is caring about others more than caring about ourselves.
It’s been said, jokingly, that in every movie ever made there are really only ten different plots. Let me give you an example. A woman is in a bad marriage; the man is either abusive or just not a good husband, but the woman is a saint who stays in the marriage because she feels it is the right thing to do. There is, however, a kind, intelligent, good-looking young man down the street who has never quite managed to find that truly special person. Just possibly, this “boy next-door” is someone from her past whom she never expected to see again. When these two serendipitously bump into each other at (insert public location here,) the chemistry is obvious almost instantly. But because she is a saint and he is a good man, they don’t do anything improper, and you feel the tragedy of the situation. The good man is about to leave town or marry someone else he doesn’t love, when miraculously the bad husband is hit by a train or killed in a mining accident. The saint, after a proper time of mourning, is able to marry the good guy and live happily ever after.
I have seen at least one hundred different movies with this theme, and when my son and I walk in on my wife watching just such a “chick flick”, we jokingly call out a plot number. “Oh, this must be a number 3.” It’s a reference to the movie being so very predictable.
Most of the year, these movies bother me. I can’t watch them because they are usually badly acted, and so corny that I will get up and go do something else.
At Christmas time, however, my tune changes: I will sit down and watch a cheesy Christmas movie, and even tear up a little as the girl gets the guy, or the children find out there really is a Santa, or [insert plot number of choice].
Why is it that I change so much between Thanksgiving and Christmas? What softens in me so that I go from being sarcastic to openly emotional?
Maybe pine trees and candles lighten my mood. Or maybe being with family more makes me more congenial; (yeah, right)! Possibly it could be the memories of my childhood, or the wonder of Christmas seen in my children’s eyes. Or is it, as the Grinch says, a little bit more?
This time of year, unlike most of the year, I am more likely to hear the story of Jesus, and not just at church on Sunday. Our pastor has been telling us all month that there is a cost to the hope of the season. To us it is free, but God paid an amazing price to reconcile us to Himself.
During this season, as I watch the news every night, I see groups trying to give gifts and food to children and families that don’t have any. I look around me and see that I am so blessed. God has given me a ministry and a purpose, and a family whom I love and who love me. We have a roof over our heads and food in our refrigerator.
So maybe, instead of being my usual sarcastic self, during this time I am actually remembering to be thankful for what I have been given. Perhaps this is something that should affect all our lives a little bit more.
This is the month many men dread, and not just because we should have gotten all our tax forms in the mail by now. No, we are all tied up in knots because we are supposed to find an original way to display our love to our wives. I have known some men who are great at this; they plan out an amazing meal and evening events that would put paid organizers to shame. Year after year, these guys think up creative and exciting ways to surprise their wives, and they make me look bad. I am so terrible at managing “special occasions” that I actually bought the same card for my wife two years in a row. That’s not a joke; I went to the store, looked through all the cards, and picked out the one I liked, which also happened to be the same one still sitting on top of our prominently displayed family piano from the year before.
As a husband and dad I don’t always get everything right, but thank God all I am doesn’t ride on that one day a year. Some years I’ve been better at this romance thing; at other times I’ve had more grace to listen to my wife and understand her. To me love has always been about more than flowers and candy: it’s displayed in the things I do, and in how I have learned to change the way I act for the sake of both my wife and children. I watch my children make mistakes I told them to avoid, but, like me, they have to learn the hard way. I have sat and listened as they felt the sting of hard lessons, and I’ve tried real hard not to break out in “I told you so!” As a dad I have had the responsibility to discipline my children. It isn’t what I’d like to do. I want to be the fun dad, the one everyone likes, but that wouldn’t be love. I have had to make tough choices for our family, not just popular ones. At times I have shown love by making sacrifices, giving up what I wanted so that my wife or children could have what they wanted or needed. I did this gladly; my family has no need to know about most of these sacrifices. I have prayed for them, that they might continue to seek after God. I have asked that they might someday find a special someone who loves them and spurs them on to be their best. I have thanked God for the one he brought me twenty four years ago who has done the same thing for me. At times, I have tried to be the husband who relieves my wife from having to be the “go to” for all things child related.
I Googled “how much are we worth,” and this answer was the second result. This value was obtained by pricing out all the chemicals in our bodies and coming up with a sum total. From a chemical standpoint, (65% oxygen, 18% carbon, and so on all the way down to traces of zinc, copper, and aluminum,) $4.50 is the price tag put on a human being. The article said that our skin was the most valuable at $3.50, but they were only basing that on the price of cowhide.
Of course, this estimate is based only on a chemical perspective, and I’m sure we’ve heard stories on the Internet of people selling kidneys and other organs for a lot more. Still, this guess puts the value of our bodies below the cost of some cups of coffee these days. And while I’m glad that no one is likely to kill me to get at my zinc content anytime soon, such a surprising fact forces us to ask an obvious question.
How much are we worth?
An article came out this month in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled, “What Makes Killing Wrong?” The authors were Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Franklin G Miller. They argue that killing is only wrong because it permanently disables the person. It’s not that killing carries some inherent moral repugnance; it only takes away a person’s future ability. They then carry that argument to its logical conclusion. If a person has no ability, as is the case with new born babies or the severely disabled, we should be able to harvest parts from them, parts needed by those with “ability”. I am over-simplifying; their argument its long and you can read it here: (http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/01/19/medethics-2011-100351.full)
While at first I was outraged by this study, it made me think. How could these gentlemen come to such a conclusion? Myself and many others are blown away by the conclusions these men reach, as evidenced in blog posts across the Internet. While many have articulated thoughtful and insightful reasons why these men are wrong, I wonder how they could even entertain such ideas. If I were to ask the authors this question, I can’t say they would understand what I was asking, since they see this as a purely theoretical pursuit, devoid of emotion. We parents and friends of the very people they see as “without value” come to the complete opposite conclusion, and with a strong emotional response.
Ah, Labor Day weekend. Time to go camping. So I hook up the trailer and start loading. Don't forget the wheelchair, and the walker so he can do some therapy. The leg braces, AFOs and special shoes. I pack the kids' bikes but skip the special bike. Don't forget to put the urinal in the truck. (It's just too hard to get him to the trailer bathroom). My family had a hard summer; we didn't do much more than trade off going to another state with my son for his surgeries (three in all). Major reconstruction of his legs was needed because of his cerebral palsy. We thought it would be fun to take at least one trip this summer. We went with friends who have six children. I watched as they all ate and dressed and trekked off to the bathroom together. And I thought, Wow! That is a lot of work. Then I thought more about it. I have three kids, one of which has special needs. Some folks look at us and say, "Wow!" I have come to realize lately that so much is relative to our situation. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by life-but so does every family. Ours is just different. While I had a hard time packing up for the weekend, others had a hard time dealing with the day's events. Does having a special-needs child make me tougher or somehow a better person? I don't think so; I think it just means I have a unique situation that requires me to do things differently than others would. I have bought things to make my life work, like a trailer and truck and wheelchairs, and even a house. We are just a family trying to make it though life and, hopefully, have a little fun along the way. By the way . . . we had a great weekend.