On Happiness

The Pacific Ocean crashes into shore not a hundred feet from where I sit.  I could spend the rest of my days listening to my mother’s laughter blending with the crashing waves.  The bittersweet taste of lime explodes on my tongue, the seltzer fizzes around the backs of my teeth, and the rum goes down icy cold and ends nice and warm.  I have been body surfing for five hours; there is sunburn on my face and a gash on my foot.  I had been crashed into a rock formation by a wave more powerful than I, a wave that reminds me that God is in control and I am just in the current of life.  It is two days before Christmas, I am at the equator, my friends are snowed in all up and down the Eastern seaboard, and I am happy.

The snow lies on the ground five inches deep.  My world’s entire surface has been changed in the span of two hours by a God more powerful than I; a God who controls the weather while I have to pull on my jacket and trudge through it.  My tongue is frozen because I got tired of trying to catch a snowflake on the tip and finally grabbed a huge chunk off the hood of a car nearby and shoved it in my mouth.  Laughter echoes down from the space between the dorms and from the sledders by the soccer fields.  My friend sleds down a hill on a half-inflated inner tube and wipes out which causes me to laugh from the depths of my spirit.  My teeth no longer chatter and my gums are numb.  The gloves on my hand have quit resisting the wetness; my fingers are beyond feeling.  I briefly think of frostbite but keep laughing.  People have started throwing snowballs at us from the upper parking lot; war has been declared.  Thirty minutes later we combine forces and attack the sledders at the soccer field.  It is a Friday afternoon, I am with my closest friends, and I am happy.

The singer is two feet from my face.  The house lights are low and the stage lighting flickers from red to yellow, green to blue.  My throat is sore from singing every word and my tongue is dry, both crave water.  The venue wants four dollars a bottle so I keep singing.  I am surrounded by other people as happily exhausted as I am.  Different people from different backgrounds, all creatures of God, enjoy this exact moment reminding me that I am not alone.  My calves are sore from jumping for hours, but my feet keep dancing, stepped on as often as they have been.  My forehead is covered in sweat.  New Found Glory breaks into my favorite song; I let go.  Saves The Day had warmed me up for this moment; my heart is pounding in motion with the drummer’s left drum stick. It is a Saturday night, the club is jumping, and I am happy.

The Bible is held within my hands.  I hear no laughter in the soft breathing of my sleeping roommate.  I know he is across the room from me, but I am alone.  My tongue whispers silently as I read the words of David.  My head imagines the scene of a man dancing in rags before the Lord, his wife looking on with scorn.  I hear her mocking laughter in my head.  My heart wishes to be able to do the same before the Lord.  I keep reading; the leather is soft on my fingertips, the pages are crisp, and the print is small.  This is every day; why am I not happy?

I am sitting in American Literature I on a lazy, cold Monday afternoon.  The first winter chill has just passed through my small college town.  The normally cold buildings are finally being heated from their frigid, early-semester temperatures.  The monotonous setting of a classroom surrounds me with its clumps of matching tables and chairs, all in varying shades of beige or blue which match the varying shades of white or grey on the walls and carpet.  We are discussing the correlation of education and opportunity and how that can lead to possible greatness.  The great slave narrative writers combined these two things to change the world.  But before they could be educated, they had to learn about life in the hardships of slavery and survival.  They were only able to pursue scholarly education once freedom was attained.  It was after all of this that they picked up their pens.

But I am already free and I have not experienced hardships.  The only correlation is that I have received an education.  How can I to change the world for the better when my experiences only tell me how blessed I truly am?  I am able to pay for a semester abroad in Italy from the income of my summer job and I have a thousand dollars in my bank account to travel, shop, and live in Europe.  My clothes, while mostly bought on sale, etch name brands across my chest, under my belt, or around my shoes.  In chapel today, someone asked us to consider sponsoring a child who was starving in a third world country for only thirty-eight dollars a month.  It has always been a desire of mine, but I would not commit to it because I do not have a steady income.  Logic and reason tell me this is a wise decision; my friends echo the same.  But the truth is still in front of my face.  My spending money for Italy could cover three years up front for this child.  My shoes another month, my jeans and belt two. My jacket, sweater, and polo could easily pay for another three.  The watch on my wrist, my wallet, and my purity ring could finish out the year.  Four years of support for a child resting on my fleshly frame, one identical to theirs.

I remember last night complaining that I was hungry.  Within twenty minutes, I was eating fresh-from-the-fryer fries as I drove back to my free education in my paid-off car listening to satellite radio.  As I write this I think about a hungry child, maybe in Sudan or Haiti, and all I feel is overwhelming guilt.  I want to get out my checkbook and sponsor multiple children on three continents to react to this guilt. But selfish reason and logic convince me to put down the pen.  Perhaps this is why I am not happy when I read the Bible, because it reminds me how painful it is to step outside of myself to fit through the eye of a needle.

Author’s Note: Written in 2010