The eulogies are over, the obituaries written and the attention has turned - not hastily, but inevitably - from Hubert Humphrey's death to his wife's appointment.
But before we close the file on the man, one more thought about the word we heard the most in his memorials happiness. Never before has a public man been so praised for his "happiness." Never before has the funeral of a man of political prominence focused on his pleasure and exuberance.
Walter Mondale described his friend and mentor, who was always labeled a Happy Warrior, as a man who believed that "life was not meant to be endured, but, rather, to be enjoyed." He remembered Humphrey saying again and again that this was the only country in the world that had "the pursuit of happiness" as a national goal.
In many ways, I thought it was remarkable to hear such a spirited description and defense of happiness. But perhaps it's true. The word seems to have become so controversial. I see happiness written more often as an epithet than an epitaph. It reads more often as a piece of psychobabble than as a part of political philosophy.
In the last several years, we have associated the pursuit of happiness" with a kind of hedonism, the wildly indulgent behavior displayed by the succession of Roman emperors in "I, Claudius," and the false euphoria of the leisure-time activists. Happiness seems to be the goal of a disillusioned people who have retreated from social concerns to private ones, and are driven by a desire to feel good.
Pleasure is now a buzz word. "Pleasure seekers" are visualized as those people who quest exclusively after Big Sur and bigger orgasms.
A phrase like "enjoyment, not endurance," could be the motto of people justifying the most outrageous sort of irresponsible, hurtful behavior. It could also be the slogan for those who only go around once in life, and try to grab all the gusto for themselves.
There are, after all, many who believe that the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of "their" happiness. And theirs alone.
But even those of us who are hardly hedonists increasingly conduct our "Search for Happiness" - like the characters in some soap opera - in our private lives. Our expectations are lowered in public and raised in private, but we still try to fill the quota.
Fewer and fewer look for pleasure in work or happiness in school. "Happy Hour," after all, takes place after work and in a social environment. Self-fulfillment is a weekend activity. Happiness, they say, is a warm puppy.
We seek great pleasure in a smaller and smaller area of our lives. We think of happiness as an individual pursuit.
At this moment then, Humphrey's "happiness" is a good antidote to our own. It is far closer to the original in the Declaration of Independence written by the same man, Thomas Jefferson, who said: "Our greatest happiness . . . is always the result of good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits."
Humphrey found sheer, almost physical, pleasure in his work because he defined it as working for others. He believed that politics is ideally the business of pursuing the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest numbre of people. The pursuit of happiness was not a justification for self-centeredness. It was the source of pressure for social change.
The pursuit can't be just an individual one. It's ultimately as difficult to be a totally content person in an unjust society as it is to enjoy a banquet surrounded by starving people. In the end, selfishness demands a strong dose of selflessness.
Similarly, by pursuing pleasure only in private lives, we may miss it. Hawthorne once wrote: "Make it the object of pursuit and it leads to a wild-goose chase and is never attained. Follow some other object and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it."
Through his own sense of joy and mission, Humphrey showed a genuine, selfish pleasure that comes not only fromwarm puppies but from a sense of generosity and public purpose.