Poet David J. Rothman on the pursuit of happiness
The Pursuit of Happiness
By David J. Rothman
It might seem crazy what I’m about to say,
But as you cruise down Main Street in a Jeep
Covered with confetti, honking loudly;
Or tell the kids again, for God’s sake, please,
Water balloons do not belong inside,
As meanwhile, on the grill, the burgers hiss;
Or maybe as you drive or hike the mountains,
So cool and verdant in this big snow year;
Or as you paddle rivers, hang with friends,
Play softball, hoist a beer, or read a book,
Watch a good movie, maybe have a talk,
Walk a dog, hook trout, sing, play some catch;
And even if, alone in your thoughts, lonely,
You contemplate how you might change your life;
As you do all that, as all of us
Pursue whatever we’re pursuing now,
Consider this: that happiness is the truth,
A concept at the core of all our freedom,
And that today is one part testimony
To its political birth pangs.
That strange July day many decades back
Had any people ever, anywhere,
Thought to declare that happiness could be
Something we have a fundamental right
To seek, as true as life and liberty?
And yet that’s what the fading parchment says:
“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.” Hold on.
We hear the words so frequently we often
Don’t really hear them, but that’s what they say.
The pursuit of happiness is bedrock.
Yes, with good cause. For what could make people
Less equal than what has occurred repeatedly
Throughout history: that some enjoyed
More rights to pursue happiness than others?
That some, because of others’ accidents
Of birth, their bad luck and their harder choices,
Wrote laws saying those others had less right
To seek out happiness; their happiness
Came second to the rulers’ happiness.
And we were not immune. We too have held
Some people to be more equal than others,
Saying for far too long that some could not
Step to the counter for an ice cream cone,
Or could not vote, or work, or join, or marry.
Liberty depends on such hard facts.
Remember, people only say that things
Appear self-evident when they are not.
And yet – we’ve inherited these words
About our right to chase our happiness
And we have used them well, and held that truth,
Stumbling towards our more perfect union,
A stumbling we must keep considering
How to do. In all its imperfections,
Part of its promise, we should celebrate
That great pursuit and recommit ourselves
To it: our pursuit of happiness
And everyone else’s pursuit of theirs,
How to achieve it, how to make it work.
Some say poetry makes nothing happen.
I say that depends on what we mean
By happening. Try this: whoever you
May be, in your relentless solitude,
Take just one easy minute and observe
The men, women and children near you now,
Just observe them and consider them
Doing their best pursuing happiness.
Then consider how, with them, you might
Celebrate the texture of that freedom,
And turn and celebrate it in yourself,
In all your dreams and failures, lies and courage,
Successes, tragedies and compromises.
Why not? Today’s the day.
Make every minute of it count,
Remembering that this is part
Of what it means to be free.