Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happiness Is ???

Every student of American history, even those who did not pay particularly close attention during class has heard the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These things are the inalienable rights afforded to us by this country’s Declaration of Independence. I am clear on what life is and I am fairly clear on what liberty means. What the heck does “the pursuit of happiness” really mean? If this is a right, guaranteed to all by virtue of being a citizen of the United States, why are there so many unhappy people in this country?

As I sat thinking about this, it suddenly dawned on me that when we think about this phrase, we focus on the wrong word. We tend to think that these words of John Locke entitle us to life, liberty, and happiness. Wrong! We are not guaranteed happiness. We are guaranteed the right to pursue happiness. Herein lays the answer to why there are so many unhappy people around. We know what it means to pursue something, to chase after something until we have caught it. The question in this case is what is “it”? What are we chasing? What is happiness? Most people have no clue; thus we are a nation in utter distress and utter dis-ease.

Yesterday was the first day of school. For both Weber and I the day was not bad – a few of the first day glitches with student schedules and so on but for the most part, it was a good day. We had to stop at Wal-Mart on the way home, along with thousands of other people who were buying last minute ingredients for dinner and baskets full of school supplies, to get dog food and diet coke – basic staples around here. Our fellow shoppers all seemed to be fairly cheerful even though the lines were long and many of us were obviously tired. As we stood in line we talked about things like who had the dog food coupon, how many watermelons did we really think that we could eat, what the rest of the week looked like, and how it was going to take a while to get used to getting up at 5:30 again. The other thing that it is going to take getting used to is being apart all day. Though teaching doesn’t pay as well as other careers, having nearly three months off together over the summer is worth a few zeros on the paycheck. The point here is that at 5:00 yesterday afternoon after having been at school all day, we were glad to be together.

We had been in line about five minutes when the gentleman in front of us turned around and said, “It is so nice to see two people our age (he was fiftyish as well) so happy to be with one another and still in love. Many of us rush through life and miss it.” We quickly admitted that it was “Take Two” for both of us but that yes indeed, we were very happy together.
Once we made our way through the line and were wheeling our groceries to the car, we, almost in unison, asked each other what that man in front of us saw. How could he tell from a conversation about coupons, and course loads, and classrooms with leaky ceilings that we are blissfully happy? I must admit that he is not the first person to make such a comment to us though in most of these other instances our affection for one another was much more obvious. So, what does happiness look like?

I don’t know. I have a better grasp on what it does not look like. It can’t be seen in stuff. If you are unhappy, no thing will ever make you happy. It may temporarily mask the pain of being unhappy, but you will still be unhappy. Power and control will not make you happy. Unless you take control of your own unhappiness, power over and control of others will not do it either.

I think that real happiness is only possible when you truly love yourself. To love yourself you must accept who you are - the good person that you are as well as the imperfect person. It is only when we can love ourselves that we are able to accept the love of another person. It is these two things, love of self and love shared with others, that create happiness. Life is not a solo journey. We are meant to share it with others. Pursuing happiness means surrounding ourselves with people who love themselves, not in an egotistical but a realistic way, and who spread that love beyond themselves.

As I think back to yesterday and our time in line at Wal-Mart, I find myself thinking that the comment made by the man in front of us may be the greatest compliment that a person can give another. To be told that our happiness is obvious means that we have achieved the American dream - something that eludes so many.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bigger Picture

Despite the trials and tribulations of our trip to Delaware that I recounted yesterday, we did have a wonderful trip. Lewes is a quaint town full of friendly people. Everything necessary is within walking distance - except the AT&T store. We walked "uptown" for our morning coffee, strolled the streets visiting the unique shops, and spent the evenings walking to the beach and enjoying the beautiful architecture and gardens that line the streets. Below is a sampling of the sights of Lewes, Delaware.

This is my dad's house. It looks out onto the canal that leads into the Delaware Bay.

The canal . . .

It seemed that every house was surrounded by beautiful English style gardens. The variety of colors and textures was amazing. As we walked along admiring all that there was to see, we were greeted by many of the locals, two-legged and four legged, who enjoyed their evenings on screened front porches. The following picture does not do justice to the beauty of these gardens when viewed as a whole, but it does capture the sense of joy that we experienced as we walked by all the plants and flowers blowing in the ocean breeze.

For obvious reasons I am not a beach person. The thought of sitting on the beach baking in the scorching sun with sand in uncomfortable places and jellyfish swimming beside me is just not appealing. However, there is nothing like walking along the nearly deserted shoreline at either dusk or sunrise. These times of day offer an amazing sense of peace.

St. Peter's Episcopal church.

Another picture of the beach at dusk.

The Overfalls, seen in the background of this picture, is a lightship that has been restored by the Lewes Historical Society. It is a floating lighthouse like was used of the coast of Lewes to safeguard boats as they navigated the breakwaters..

Another view of the canal . . .

Our eight days on the Delaware coast were certainly a nice contrast to the summer days in Texas!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Let's Talk About Stuff

I know it looks like I can't make a plan and stick to it since, despite my promise to write more regularly, it has been so long since I last posted. This time, it really is not my fault. Sometimes the circumstances of life intervene and the plans and ideals that we strive to live by just aren't what is happening. So it has been the last few weeks.

Weber, Erin, And I travelled to the coast of Delaware to visit with my dad (and many, many other friends and relatives - including my 92 year old grandmother.) Lewes, Delaware is a big shift from Dallas or even Sanger, Texas. It is a small beach resort town on the coast of our nation's first state. During the summer months it is overrun by sun worshippers who will inevitably put the next generation of dermatologist's children through post graduate school at the most expensive institutions of higher learning. For now however, they are doing their part to keep the local economy of this small town "green" - economically, not ecologically.

I have been visiting Lewes for my entire life. My grandparents lived there, first in a cottage on the beach and then in a 1760's house that they restored. It is filled with antiques, family photographs, and momentos of stories that span many generations. Until his death in the mid nineties, my grandfather lived here. A few years after that, my parents moved into the "family homestead." With the exception of an addition that Mom and Dad added, nothing much has changed here since my first memories, which date back to the mid sixties. The furniture is the same; the lighting is the same; even the smells (good ones) are the same. Despite all this familiarity, I didn't much like making the obligatory trips to Lewes when I was a teenager. To my adolescent mind, there was nothing to do. Being sympathetic to the adolescent with whom I now live, I had decided that we would make this trek back east while she was otherwise engaged so I could spare her that sense of boredom that I knew she would find within our first 24 hours. Erin is a better person than I was at her age. She insisted on going with us.

Two days into our visit, as we were strolling down the quaint downtown streets headed toward one of the local museums, I got a phone call from Offspring No. 1, who was in Chicago finishing summer school, saying that her apartment had been robbed. Her computer and other electronics were taken as well as similar items belonging to her roommates. Though the computer had to be replaced immediately (because no one can live without a computer these days), the bigger issue was the feeling of being violated. In the long run, the stuff was just stuff, I told her

I was forced to live by my own words the next evening when Offspring No.2, who had borrowed my computer to help alleviate the adolescent boredom that I spoke of earlier, came downstairs and announced, "I broke your computer." "Do you mean it crashed?", I said. "No, I mean I broke it. The screen is cracked." When I asked the obvious next question about how this happened, I got the obvious teen aged answer, "I don't know. I put it down and when I went to use it, it was broken." I deliberated briefly about the best response - anger or tears. Ultimately I decided to take a deep breath, say very little, remember those words "stuff is just stuff", and ask Weber to go upstairs to survey the damage.

Through some frugal web shopping and friends in low places who happen to be handy with screwdrivers, my computer is now fixed and I am back in business. However, it was this little episode that interrupted my promise to make (almost) regular blog posts.

I had just about recovered from all of the bad encounters with electronics of the past few days when Offspring No. 2 tripped and dropped her iPhone shattering its screen and this rendering it useless. Oh yeah. Did I mention she was walking and playing games when this happened? It's just stuff! It is just stuff! It is just stuff! FYI - There is no App to miraculously reconstruct the shattered touch creen of an iPhone. This problem would not have been so urgent if we were all heading back to Dallas together. Unfortunately, we were putting Erin on a plane to Chicago to spend a few days with her sister. The mother in me couldn't let her go by herself with no means of communication. We headed for the AT&T store to replace the phone. This was as much for me as it was for her.

Lesson: Stuff is just stuff.
Corrolary: Stuff costs money. Sometimes it costs lots of money.

During our visit, my dad mentioned that he wasn't sure how much longer he would stay in the house. It is a lot of house and a lot of yard for one person to care for. As I looked around, all I could think was that there is a lot of stuff in this house! Suddenly my mantra of its just stuff came back to haunt me.

When is stuff just stuff and when is it not?