Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Happiness: The ultimate crime?
My dad was on the faculty at the local University, and we lived less than 3 miles away, which during spring and fall made for a lovely walk. I found this great shortcut that was like a hidden secret right in the middle of the city -- there was a little hiking trail running alongside a stream, complete with grasses and wildflowers. There were even a couple of wooden bridges. It made you feel like you were someplace very removed.
I must have had a great day at school, feeling all excited about uncovering some new ideas as I walked along. Just being on that trail was a real lift. The trail let out into the parking lot of a church on Sunnyside Avenue, and just as I stepped out onto the street, this cop car flashes its lights and pulls me over! Calls out to me to stop. I’m thinking, “There’s no way I’m speeding on FOOT. Maybe I was jaywalking. Or worse -- maybe somebody owns that property with the little trail. Crap! He must have seen me coming off that trail and he’s going to ticket me for trespassing.” ...
Hesitantly, I approach the patrol car and brace myself for a citation. Slowly he rolls down his window and motions to me to come closer. Then, completely out of the blue he asks, “Why are you so happy?” [Happy? I just got pulled over for being too happy?!]
I was too floored to give an intelligent response, so I just shrugged and said, “I’m always happy!” and then he drove off. I’ve thought a lot about that experience since, and wished I’d taken the opportunity -- or would be given another -- to really explain the depth and source of my happiness.
I had a similar experience at lunch with my friend Allison a few years ago. We’d been talking and laughing uproariously for an hour straight, and suddenly this lady who was dining alone across the aisle from us leans over and says, “Excuse me, ladies,” interrupting us mid-sentence.
We were sure she was going to Shhhhh us for disturbing her meal with our lively banter, and looked over apprehensively, bracing ourselves for a scolding. But instead, she said how refreshing it was to see and hear two such happy, positive people when all her friends do nothing but complain. She went on and on about how she wanted to be around us, and wanted to know what made us so happy. (We didn't have the heart to tell her that a dear friend had just passed away, and we were joyfully reminiscing about old times.)
Caught off guard once again, we gave her an answer, but it was pretty superficial. What I would have given for one of those pass-along cards right then! I prayed for her for weeks afterward, this nameless woman in search of my brand of happiness.