Saturday, December 25, 2004

Happy Christmas

By virtue of the creation, and still more of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Earlier this week, after dinner, my 10 year-old, Seamus, said:

"Do you know what you can say when people ask you why you're happy? Just say 'Why not?'"

For me, this Christmas has made it a lot easier to say "why not be happy?" I've got my family around me, friends and neighbors who are showering us with grace, and every prospect of beating Cromwell and the Roundheads into oblivion. I got to make music with my band at the pub on Thursday evening, and with my family at church on Christmas Eve.

Actually, my insights aren't as good as Seamus's. I'm still looking for reasons to justify a choice to be happy. Seamus can see that you don't really need a reason.

He's right.

As a lawyer, I know I can always find some justification for nearly any choice. I can give you fifty reasons why I should be happy, and just as many (or more) why I should be angry, sad, bitter or despondent.

But the only reason that counts is that I can choose happiness.

I know not everybody can make that choice. Depression, chemicals, trauma - lots of things can take away someone's power to choose the edifying over the stultifying, living over dying, flourishing over surviving. And it would be stupid and unfeeling to tell someone bound in those chains to just cheer up.

I'm convinced that for most of us, and certainly for me, we get to make a fundamental choice about how we respond to creation, the good and the bad. We make this choice over and over and over. Eventually, we can form a habit of responding one way or the other. We can decide to change that habit, but it isn't easy.

New facts and circumstances can also shock us out of our habitual view of the world - a diagnosis, an epiphany, a miracle or a disaster.

I think Sartre wrote (possibly in No Exit?) that "Hell is other people." My recent experience suggests that Heaven is other people.

What if the final judgment is our own? What if, faced with the beatific vision, we each just get to choose heaven or hell? What if that choice is unconstrained by the Creator, but heavily influenced by the habits of our life? Which one would you choose, right now?

What say we get a head start on it, and choose heaven today? And tomorrow? And the rest of our lives?

I'm not saying it'll be easy. Sometimes it might be impossible.

But if we can do it -

Well, as Seamus asked, "Why not?"

Merry Christmas.


Blogger marian said...

I love it.

I completely agree that happiness is, usually, a choice. It was actually my mantra a few years back, when I was feeling down about things more often than not. I'd catch myself slipping into downer thoughts, and say to myself, "I choose happiness." Eventually it became a habit and I didn't have to use the sentence anymore, but sometimes it still comes in handy.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Tom Wolf said...

A profound and beautiful message. On a similar note, spurred in part by your circumstances and example, my biggest gift to my family this Christmas was to renounce, once and for all, acting in anger.

The vast majority of the time I'm very upbeat and even tempered. But about 3-4 times a year, I would blow up at something or, more likely, some combination of things that has built up for awhile. I can testify from first-hand experience that exploding in anger is never the intelligent, much less the "right," response to anything. I know I can choose a different, more constructive response. It just takes being mindful. So this is a commitment, requiring attention, concentration and effort. I'm glad for it.

And I'm glad to have you as a neighbor, friend and partner.

Merry Christmas to you, your family and your friends.

Love, Tom

6:35 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

It makes us happy just knowing you and your family. Merry Christmas! We love you!
Jenn, John, FiFi

8:27 PM  
Blogger Kita28 said...

Happy Christmas Jim!

I love your thoughts (and you're right, it was No Exit). As we go through life, we can't always choose our feelings. But, like friends, we can choose which thoughts and feelings we spend time on and foster.

My mother always told me, "No one can take away your joy."

We love you, Judy, and the kids at Christmas time and always,

Kita, Brad, et al.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Letter Written by Fra Giovanni
Fra Giovanni, 1513

I am your friend and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not
got, but there is much, very much, that, while I
cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find
rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in
this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it,
yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and
glory in the darkness could we but see - and to see
we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its
gifts by the covering, cast them away as ugly
or heavy or hard. Remove the covering and you
will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of
love, by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it, touch the angel's hand that
brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a
sorrow, or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand
is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an
overshadowing presence. Our joys, too, be not
content with them as joys. They, too, conceal
diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of
beauty - beneath its covering - that you will find
earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage
you have, and the knowledge that we are all pilgrims
together, wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the
world sends greetings, but with profound esteem
and with the prayer that for you now and forever,
the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

11:07 AM  
Blogger CJ Fillmore said...

Ahhhh. Good sigh. The kind of sigh all the pirates on "Hook" do after listening to the little girl sing her sweet song.

I know the idea of you turning your blog into a book was previously discussed. I hope someday you might. Your writing is very eloquent and insightful. I guess it only makes sense that you would have a wife, family, and friends who are equally gifted and giving.

As your assistant wrote, your book is being written.

You and your blog are very helpful to me. About 18 years ago I think God decided I needed to be prepared for something "big" further down the road. So I had the opportunity to learn first-hand about cancer, a broken neck, a broken back, broken knees, paralysis, death of friends in combat, etc.

Since then, I have always been so careful to appreciate the little things, knowing that someday I may not have the opportunity to see or experience them again--the hugs and kisses from my son, a sunset, the color of the trees, the wind and sun on my face.

But I have recently found myself getting down as I deal with medical issues that, while not immediately life threatening, just seem to suck the life out of me by leaving me more fatigued and in pain.

Reading your posts has made me realize that so much of the unhappiness I've been feeling lately is produced by focusing on how much I can't do anymore--my days consist of sleeping and trying to keep up with laundry and dishes so my husband and son have something to wear and something to eat off of. Anything more than that is quite unusual and very tiring.

Reading your posts (and those of your loved ones and friends) helps to ease my frustration with what I can no longer do and reminds me to focus on the others in my life. I'm sure my son will remember me as the "sofa mom," but I can at least make it a good memory.

Thanks for your posts. Thanks for sharing your life. Did you ever dream you would touch so many people, even strangers like me?

After the book, here's looking forward to the movie!
Cheers, CJ

PS: besides accepting Jesus Christ as my Saviour, marrying my husband, and having my son, going to counseling was one of the smartest things I ever did. It was also one of the most interesting. I am a better and much happier person for having done it. It's one of life's more interesting journeys that most people are afraid to take.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Karen Davis said...

Yeah, good news! I'm so glad. Karen

9:34 AM  

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