Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pursuit of Happine$$

The bird feeders just fell with a crash. The pole they were on wasn’t strong enough to hold the full load of bird seed, 8 finches, and a lovely old copper bucket with squirrel treats. Gotta get a new pole. My husband is delighted with a new project especially if it has the slightest hint of an engineering or design aspect to it. In the meantime, my critter watch is on hold.

When we get it figured out though, I have some new fruit-and-nut treats from Amazon that just arrived and my husband found a new mix at the feed store that the squirrels are bound to love. We think we’ve arrived at the perfect mix for our finches. So we have supply and demand; we just need delivery and fulfillment.

I was thinking that’s like a lot of things we have here in my comfortable western world, lots of supply really and certainly a lot of demand. My country based a lot of what it’s about on an individual’s rights, especially to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In our ever-abbreviating world, I sense we often leave out a couple of words in that phrase, specifically, “pursuit of.”
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Is that what makes us Ugly Americans? That we forget that we have the right to pursue happiness rather than the right to happiness? We skipped a couple of words and the concept of striving and landed on the goal immediately? If we have a “right” to happiness, do some have that right and not others? Are some more deserving than others because they are able or young? Or because they have worked long and hard for it? Or because someone told them they were better than other people because of accident of birth? Is happiness limited? Is the pursuit meant to be restricted?

We get a lot of ideas about what “happy” means from our childhood of course. Chocolate does it for some of my friends, not a bad definition as they go. One of my closest friends in high school figured out that happiness meant a happy home and family, close loving ties, without harsh requirements for Ivy League connections or political aspirations. He has a bunch of kids, an unfashionable job seldom the topic of TV dramas and an address not aspired to by the rich and famous. But he figured out what happiness means to him. He pursued it. It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. But he is my idea of the best success I always wished for him. His own family while he was growing up were people too concerned with appearances, achievement and monetary success and not enough for just plain love and acceptance. They could never set aside their worldly pursuits to allow a crack in the armor, to let a little humanity in. They would reject their own child because his goals were not their goals. I knew them. I did not like them. I did not like how they treated him, even if he was just a rebellious teenager, too clever by half.

I’m not sure my friend defines himself as successful because we are taught the measures of success here as a dollars and cents thing, as a material possessions thing. Oh, we teach other things, to be sure. But the evidence we see so often is the brute’s golden rule: Them’s that’s gots the gold makes the rules. There is some big ugly truth to it. Depending on whether you feel a greater affinity with the Rich and Power-wielding or the Poor and Kind, you tend toward one extreme or another. And most of us hope to be somewhere in the middle, making enough money, whatever that is, and being human enough, whatever that is.

Back a few years ago when Disco was still being played on the sound systems at Happy Hour, I worked for one of the larger telephone companies. I was new in town, newly divorced, newly transferred to the Home Office, new all over almost like being reborn. I had the chance to concentrate, finally, on what I wanted to be when I grew up. Yes, I knew I was a little older than most people making those decisions. I joked that I was going to be “this old this year anyway” and there was some advantage to having made some mistakes to help put the next steps into a realistic context. I made the decision to get another college degree.

It was hard, one of the hardest things I had ever had to do. But my idea of happiness was to “make it” on my own without being alone. I wasn’t pursuing prestige or power or the “M.R.S.” degree people joke about.

Like my friend, it had a lot to do with the traumas of childhood and family dynamics. My parents fought about money and hopelessness and helplessness, depression and abandonment, lack of personal choice. I saw they were also limited by their ideas of what they could do about it. I wanted to learn from that.

In the misunderstanding of the Pursuit of Happiness, some people might think that this kind of happiness, a kind of stability, should be given to them as a right. Again, that leaves out the important words, “pursuit of.” I had the right to make the most of my talents and opportunities, to work days and go to school nights around the clock for three years. I had opportunities to quit, too, and lots of pressure from peers. I was too old (late twenties), I was working too hard, I was burning my candle at both ends, good Aries that I am, I was making the other clerks at the telephone company look bad, and finally I was being selfish. I ignored it all and kept going, through parking tickets and derisive teasing from teachers and co-workers. I kept going, knowing that my mother was dying of cancer and knowing that I could not stop that. I wanted a better life. I wanted to Pursue Happiness.

The Knight of Pentacles is the tarot card that represents that dogged pursuit of the material world. Even I frown at the Knight of Pentacles because focusing too much on the material world creates awful human dynamics, like my friend’s family who valued only that his older brother was going to Yale or that his father was a leader in his political party. Focusing on that Pentacle can cause you to lose your soul. But ignoring it can do the same.

Like the Knight of Pentacles, I had the right here in this land that’s known for freedom to try to make things better, not the right for things to be better. I had the right to try because I was able. The time was right. I could figure out how to make it work. I could select a field that, unlike a B. A. in English, was more marketable and likely to get me a job where I could sustain myself without having to be dependent on someone else’s income: My idea of happiness.

It worked. I’ve had the opportunity to pursue financial stability, an opportunity few women in the world get, despite all our progress as a people. I had the opportunity to work so hard that I thought I would fall over, to be laid off in tough economic times and to recreate myself to find another job. My version of happiness broke up a date once with one guy sputtering in shock and dismay after learning about me, “But, you don’t need a man!” I explained patiently, fruitlessly, that I wanted a relationship where I wanted my partner. I wanted to marry for love, not necessity. My Knight of Pentacles may have his hand on the prize. His head and heart and soul are then free to be where they will go.

Best wishes.

1 comment:

  1. Right on, Marcia!

    Sometimes I think the pursuit is half the fun (and where one really grows).