Doctor of Happiness

BLOG #11, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DOCTOR OF HAPPINESS
March 18, 2015

Serendipitously, while still sifting through thousands of stories in my archives, I found the perfect companion piece to last week’s blog, “How to Be Happy?” When I checked the source, I knew I had to incorporate it into this week’s blog, for the story was featured in the November 1935 issue of Sunshine magazine, published by Sunshine Press in Litchfield, Illinois. Sunshine has long been one of my favorite magazines, both for its stories and for its quotations. I’ve anthologized many of the stories, and in my daily quotation tweets, few sources do I raid more often than Sunshine magazine.

During the last period of its existence, it was published by Garth Henrichs, and he and I became good friends. When I told him of my love for the magazine, he sighed and said, “Your words mean a great deal to me – especially since age is catching up with me and I have no one to carry on after I’m gone.” We stayed in contact until the late 1980s, when Garth was finally forced to close the doors of Sunshine Press, founded by his father Henry Henrichs. But before he died, he entrusted me with the legacy of keeping Sunshine alive in my writing and books. Neither blogs nor tweets existed back then. Thus, I’m confident Garth would be filled with joy to see this story by an unknown author live again.

Enjoy!

“MARY ANN, Ph. D.”

Mary Ann was a scrubwoman. But that didn’t prevent her from being a philosopher, although she did not know herself by that designation. It is not uncommon these days to find excellent wisdom wrapped up in odd and unpromising packages.

Mary Ann did a lot of thinking as she scrubbed, which did not hurt the scrubbing. Her conclusions may not have matched the classic cogitations of the collegiate or his companions in wisdom, but they were ideas that had the spice of sense in them. And that’s something.

It was one of those depressing, damp days too prevalent in the great city. Mary Ann was scrubbing the imposing stone steps of a well-known banking institution, when a banking official known to the scrubwoman entered. He paused for a moment, as he often did, to exchange a bit of conversation with Mary Ann. He hoped she might be happy and well. She was well, and had a good appetite, thank you. And she had a “right smart amount” of happiness, too, but not any too much.

Mary Ann often had pondered that matter with a view to discovering a satisfying conclusion. At the best, she found it a somewhat complex affair, but not wholly confounding. She had evolved what might be called a philosophy of happiness – she had to have one to keep going and hold up her end of the day’s demands. Life would be unbearable in a city tenement, and crushing to a scrubber of bank portals, without some definite ideas about happiness and contentment. Her philosophy might not conform to the most logical reasoning, nor blend with the poet’s dream of bliss, but it satisfied Mary Ann.

Looking up at the banker from her kneeling position, Mary Ann quaintly said, “There ain’t no happiness in this world, ‘cept what we makes ourselves.”

“Quite a chunk of wisdom,” thought the banker, but he said nothing. Mary Ann hesitated, expecting the banker to pass on, but he did not. Instead, he stood there and just looked at her.

Mary Ann raised up on her knees. “You see,” she continued, “happiness, t’ me way o’ thinking, is something inside o’ you. A lot o’ folks ‘spect somebody t’ come along an’ fill ‘em full o’ happiness, an’ all they think they got t’ do is jest t’ do nothing. You know, Mister, that makes me feel kinda ‘shamed o’ meself – jest like we humans can’t take care o’ ourselves.”

“Seems to me,” continued Mary Ann, seeing that the banker friend was still listening, “seems t’ me what we git from other folks, what some call happiness, is something cheap, an un–ungenuine. What you git from inside yerself is all good, and it sticks.”

The banker looked enviously at Mary Ann. He found little genuine happiness in his relationships with people. Certainly he found pleasure in business–when it was good. As to happiness from the “inside,” as Mary Ann had said, his responsibilities and worries were altogether too heavy to admit of it. Hence, Mary Ann’s philosophy was somewhat perplexing, effective as it appeared to be.

“Are you happy, Mister?” questioned Mary Ann, unexpectedly.

The banker was embarrassed, and he hesitated before he answered. “Oh, yes–why, yes, of course,” he stuttered, “Maybe not the kind you are talking about. You see, I depend on society–business success, you understand, to supply my happiness.”

Mary Ann looked up at the banker, laughing, “aw, you ain’t had no happiness at all. All you git that way ain’t happiness–it’s nothing only pleasure. That ain’t happiness. I bet it don’t last no longer than it takes you t’ git away from it.” And Mary Ann laughed again.

The banker walked slowly away. “Mary Ann, Doctor of Philosophy,” he muttered. “The half of all I own would I give to experience the happiness Mary Ann possesses. My money entangles me in snares I cannot break. Would that I might cast it off, but my family and my friends live on the fruits of my investments. I cannot forsake them. I live in fear of something, I know not what. I am worried – worried— ”

When Mary Ann finished scrubbing, she hummed a little tune all her own. Weary in body, to be sure, but happy because the portals were shining – a work well done – and she was earning an honest and respectable living, and she could look the whole world in the face. The contagion of her happiness shed a ray upon her surroundings and brightened the outlook of those near by.

The banker, wise in many things, foolish in the greatest, experienced a bit of Mary Ann’s brand of happiness when, on the early morning of Thanksgiving Day, he deposited at Mary Ann’s tenement door a huge basket bulging with good things. It was in material things, such as these, that he had sought his own happiness, but in his own possession rather than in the possession of others. Suddenly he realized the folly of his own philosophy.

In the basket left at Mary Ann’s door, hidden among the profusion of good things, she found a note written in the banker’s own hand. It merely said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive. Thanks to Mary Ann.”

THE CLOCK OF LIFE

“The clock of life is wound but once
And no one can tell you when the hands will stop
At late or early hour;
Now is the only time you have;
Live, love, toil with a will;
Place no confidence in tomorrow
For the clock may then be still.”

Author Unknown

This powerful little poem I positioned at both the beginning and ending of my most recent Christmas story, “The Clock of Life” in Christmas in My Heart 18 (Pacific Press, 2009); in that story, I fictionalized my own recent close call. Over an 18-month period, my body began shutting down on me. Finally, my doctor took one look at my yellow skin and gave me two hours’ notice before checking in at a hospital E.R, Then it was a race against time to find out what was wrong before it was too late.

During those long days and much longer nights, when the clock on the wall above my bed seemed to take forever to indicate one lone minute had passed, I had plenty of opportunities to Monday-morning quarterback my life: Was my life over, my race done? Had I accomplished all I had hoped to in this short soap opera we label “life”? Was I at peace with God? Had I told my wife and children often enough how very much I loved and cherished them? Was my house in order (ready for an exhaustive audit)? If my body continued to close shop on me, was I ready to tie up all the loose ends of my life? Was my wife Connie prepared to shoulder the entire burden of life alone? What could she do with the massive library that has made our 71 books possible? Did I have fences I needed to mend before it was too late? How was I doing on my Bucket List? Did I have any major regrets? Most important of all . . . was I ready to meet my Maker?

After much prayer, I was convicted that I should pour all these variables into my 18th Christmas story. And “The Clock of Life” proved to be the perfect catalyst.

* * * * *

Several days ago, I was debriefing by phone with Tim Kubrock (principal of Monterey Bay Academy) over the alumni breakfast the week before; more specifically, my remarks to the alumni.

Because of all I have gone through during the last couple of years, I was especially conscious of just how fragile is our hold on life—and, by extension, how little time we have in which to accomplish our goals. I used to take all this for granted. I most certainly do not any more.

And so I urged my fellow alumni to not delay in their giving to this school that contributed so much to us in the morning of our lives. I was painfully blunt: “You know, each year we lose more of our beloved classmates—most likely, never on earth will all of us in this room assemble together again. So please don’t delay in your support of our alma mater.”

All this the principal and I referenced in our chat.

Then he told me, “I’ve got to tell you about an experience I had in my office about 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon. A 50th anniversary alum walked in (I could tell by the honor ribbon on his shirt). Well, he just wanted to talk about the academy, life in general, his own children (who’d also attended the academy), and some painful things I can’t share. Before he left, I felt impressed to offer prayer for him and his family: that the Lord would help to heal the brokenness in his family. When he got up to leave, there was a softness and peace in his face that had not been there when he came in.

There was then a long silence. . .

Followed by a sigh . . . and

“He died last Friday.”