As a patriot and a Daughter of the Revolution, I have a deep love and appreciation for our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. I’ve always been fairly outspoken in my defense of our “inalienable rights” and have been dogmatic in instilling those values in my children.
But, yesterday an epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks.
On my way to work, I was preparing to enter the on ramp when a fire truck pulled in front of me. Immediately behind it followed an ambulance. Halfway between my home town and the town I worked yesterday, traffic came to a standstill. We waited and crept and waited and crept.
As I took my turn pulling off into the dirt and grass on the far left side of the freeway I couldn’t resist the urge to look to my right.
A vehicle was on its side. It appeared to have possibly caught fire. It was smashed beyond recognition as to make and model. I think it may have been an SUV. There was debris thrown and scattered a good forty feet in every direction. About fifteen feet away a fashionable bag sat next to a laundry bin full of personal articles. And, the paramedics were loading someone covered in a gray blanket into the back of the ambulance.
The tears immediately flowed as I petitioned God for His mercy and healing. My heart broke with the recognition someone’s life had just been horribly altered.
I was forty-five minutes late to work, but my client was still there. I shared with her the reason I was late, and she said that her daughter had just left. She was heading the opposite direction, but we were both immediately concerned nonetheless. The wrecked vehicle didn’t look like their truck at all, but my mind played tricks on me. What if their truck was the other vehicle involved and was over the side, out of sight? The vehicle I saw was in the middle of the road, on its side. How in the world did it get there? In that position? Could it have careened over the edge of the north bound lanes? Did it hit her daughter up there before flying over the edge of the hill into the south bound lanes? I went a little crazy.
I kept my phone out, waiting for a text saying that the girl was okay and safely at her college class. I cleaned the counters and then checked my phone. I cleaned the appliances and then checked my phone. After each small chore I checked my phone.
A text from my client was long in coming, but I had one from my babysitter. The highlighted bar said, “Still at the doctor…”, so I checked it. She was letting me know that she had just been told she has a very invasive but slow growing type of malignancy in her mouth.
She isn’t just my babysitter. She’s only my babysitter because she’s one of my best friends. She and her family have become more like family to us.
Everything instantly became surreal, and I sobbed HARD while I tried to see through the tears to clean the mirrors.
When I arrived at their house though, as is so typical of her and her husband, they immediately began discussing the unfairness of my situation!
This morning, after I responded to her private message on Facebook, I posted a picture of my youngest granddaughter, asking for everyone to click on the link to vote for her. My daughter has entered O in a Gerber contest.
The second response to my post came from the brother of the young woman my granddaughter is named after. He commented, “Who wouldn’t? She is so adorable. And, she has a special name. A winner for sure……”
Every time I say her name I think of his sister. I can’t wait to show O pictures of her and tell her about her. How special she was. What a strong and unique young woman she became. It’s quite a name to live up to.
Sometimes I say her name with an accent, the way the older O’s dad said it. It will be six years in January since she passed away suddenly, and my heart still aches. The horrible dark night of the soul thing has passed, but I’m left with a heaviness that doesn’t go away. Her brothers have girlfriends and are graduating college in spite of their pain. But, her parents are stuck in a perpetual state of grief that will never go away. I ache for them.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I’ve read about a so called Happiness Quotient. The thesis being that our experiential happiness is dependent upon our expectations. If we expected great things from our lives but life didn’t turn out so well, we’ll be unhappy, even miserable if the discrepancy is great enough. However, if we get what we thought we’d get, what we expected, or, even better, things are more wonderful than we ever dreamed, we’re happy!
Our Declaration of Independence states: 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.
We Americans become disgruntled, depressed, addicted, wandering aimlessly and in pain because that isn’t the reality we experience. That just isn’t what this life is really all about. Our expectations don’t even compare to our reality.
Did a young woman wake up hoping to roll her vehicle? Did my friend always dream of battling cancer before her children were grown? As a little girl, did I dream of being beaten and choked and abandoned by my future husband? Did my childhood friend look into the big brown eyes of her newborn and long to bury her at 23?
No! HELL NO!
We don’t want Death, Bondage, and Woundedness! And, that is what we get. It doesn’t meet our expectations of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
We are spoon fed lies. Fairy tales of happily ever after. A type of joy in this life that doesn’t exist. That isn’t possible.
What if? What if our culture told us that life is hard and fraught with difficulties and loss and equipped us from childhood to deal with grief and cruelty? What if our grandparents and our teachers made deliberate and lengthy efforts to instruct us to live in each moment?
Because those moments are where Life, Liberty, and Happiness are found anyway.
Life and happiness are found in those moments of staying up way too late with my recently diagnosed friend and being silly and goofy whether or not we cry tomorrow. Those moments of holding a newborn in its freshness of life, whether it dies in 23 days or 23 years. Liberty is found in choosing to hold my head up in spite of what was done to me. And, it’s found in teaching my children those behaviors are wrong whether I can stop them or not.
And, sometimes, with enough dignity and grace, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness may just be found in Death, Bondage, and Woundedness. Because it’s there that the meat of life is lived, where true appreciation is formed.
I think I finally understand what Christ meant when he said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and He who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
It is through all of these terrible losses that I have learned to appreciate what I have. And, I find lasting happiness there.