I shall now explain human happiness, as revealed in the storm.
Whichever night it was--there have been so many--that we had one of those rains that wash away mountains, I found myself chugging down Connecticut Avenue listening to fiddles on the radio. Kids were plunging across the street to see some movie. As at Tarawa, they knew the goal and they risked all.
I knew something odd was going on when this did not bother me. Usually it bugs me when kids race across the street oblivious to cars.
At the office there was no place to park within blocks, as usual, but I found a place way down M Street and trotted as far as l7th (only four blocks to go, alleluia) when the rain that is supposed to be in Hyderabad fell on my head.
Fortunately there was a protected arcade and I took refuge. Across the street was the National Geographic, but the rain was so heavy you could not see the white marble. A woman was waiting; her car was just across the street and she had an umbrella, but she knew she'd be drowned even in that short distance.
I waited, for the common wisdom is that rain so heavy never lasts more than a few minutes. And I waited and waited.
Finally I had to go. Within seconds I was wetter than a swimming pool, and the nice thing was there was no point running. I arrived at the office like your well-filled sponge.
Waiting in the arcade I thought of my great white irises just coming into bloom and beat to pieces. This led me to the vanity of human hopes, and in no time I was thinking of roofs giving way, of bayous rising, of little girls with leukemia, of good guys (whoever they are and whatever they're doing) in Afghanistan getting clobbered.
I thought of Job and thanked God (for you make an effort at these times) I didn't have athlete's foot.
The rain banged on, and without any warning I was happy. The poor sick kids were still sick, and every wrong and hateful thing in the world was still wrong and hateful, and I was happy.
This shows there is a chemistry here, rare ozones in the air very likely, so it's not at all like being drunk, when you simply forget what's wrong, but is more like being transported beyond what's wrong and the trumpets (as a wit once said) speak loudly on the other side.
Kids think, and how little they know, they will be happy if a girl says sure or if the grade is C, maybe, or if gas is on sale. Or if the busted leg heals better than expected, or if they find a windfall of 26 bucks.
Others, equally innocent, guess happiness comes when work is well done, or when they've brightened the day of some poor slob, or when the boss eventually realizes their new filing system really works, as the old one never did.
Ha. None of this has to do with happiness.
The Egyptians thought there was a talisman in righteousness that would protect them in evil times. But the rain falls on the just and the unjust.
The Greeks thought (some of them) the trick was to avoid intense pain, and not to hope for much more than that, until death stopped the works anyway.
Still, no matter what anybody thought or anybody did, the thing called happiness kept cropping up, and (as with all rarities of nature) there is great speculation about it.
We now know, or at least I do, that the ozones that make some happy make others miserable. The chemistries of heat and rain are more mysterious than the average weatherman has much idea of.
There are well-known cases in which men of great accomplishment, happy family life, abundant energy and radiant health, and basking in such praise as would make even Henry Kissinger blush, have wanted it all to be over, and they could not understand why, since they had not only every physical good but every other good, too.
I always wonder, walking down L Street, how many people that I pass are miserable at the moment, and to whom eating and sleeping and working are no better than a clock that keeps on ticking just because the weights keep pulling. When the weights get to the bottom the ticking will stop.
It's a different noise and a different process from the mockingbird singing all night long. Dumb bird. But it's better, we for some reason think, to hear the mockingbird than to hear the clock.
Some people think other people know nothing of that misery that is like the clock--nothing awful about it, nothing even painful, not like a toothache at all, but misery all the same, when nothing that is seen is wonderful and nothing that can even be dreamed of seems worth even dreaming about.
All people, I now know, are familiar with that misery.
As an authority on human happiness I know there is no point fighting unhappiness, or demanding that it end.
My father always recommended cracking rocks. Others suggest banging the head against a wall for a spell. Others suggest getting a dog.
They all miss the point in the long run. Happiness is merely a thing that happens, sometimes in unlikely places. It is not the result of taking thought or of doing good works. It just happens, and if you want my frank opinion, it does not happen often enough, but that's neither here nor there.
Is it merely the contrast made possible by its blinding difference from a lousy world? It may be, and maybe without discomfort--hell, agony--we'd never know it. But I doubt this. You've seen people happy who you think have somehow escaped the loss of what we may call zing.
No, sir, happiness does not depend on contrast with misery, but is a phenomenon in itself. It cannot be worked for, saved up for, earned or otherwise acquired even by the dandiest among us. It is just given, it just comes.
It's like the color blue: you don't see it in the sky every day and often there's too much gray in it or it's muddied some other way. But once you've seen real blue you know what it is and all the puce in the world can't change it.
Happiness is a spirit and it comes and goes as it pleases and there's not one thing you can do about it. Fortunately. And the grief of the world notwithstanding. When joy busts in you can't stop it, so there's nothing to do. Except when it comes, be grateful. The shirt drenched and the heart bounding.