Happiness

I’m on the 10th floor of my hotel in Crystal City. The sun is rising over the Pentagon. I can see the National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, Memorial Bridge, and the Washington Monument in the distance. The streets are busy with activity. The capital of the most powerful country in the world never sleeps, but as the sun rises it seems renewed with the splendor of another day.

We have so much

to be thankful for, so much for which to be happy. The document that guarantees our freedoms, an inspired piece of paper that embodies an ideal for which we will fight and die, lies just across the Potomac from where I sit. Yet, so many of us live with the sword of Damocles hanging over our head.

You recall Cicero’s story. Dionysius II was a tyrant king. His courtier, Damocles, mentioned to him the abundance of his wealth, the majesty of his rule, his many possessions, the magnificence of his palace, and then said that no one had ever been so fortunate. With that Dionysius said, “So, Damocles, since this life delights you, do you wish to taste it yourself and make trial of my fortune?”

Damocles said that he certainly did and with that, Dionysius gave the order that the man be placed on a golden couch covered with a beautiful woven rug; he ordered chosen boys that they should stand by his table and that they should attentively wait on him; there was garlands; perfumes were burning; tables were piled up with the best foods. Damocles seemed to be experiencing the best of the king’s life.

Then Dionysius ordered that a shining sword be hung from the ceiling by a single horse’s hair. The sword hung directly over Damocles throat. Suddenly, Damocles could not enjoy the luxuries that had been bestowed upon him. All of his focus and attention was on the sword. Soon he begged Dionysius to allow him to return to his life.

Cicero’s story has been used in many ways since he penned it. It is often used as a reminder that for powerful men, there is always danger present. President John F. Kennedy said that that nuclear weapons hung over the world like the sword of Damocles; however, the true meaning of the story is that happiness is fragile – it hangs by a mere thread. For me another American president comes to mind, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who famously said, “All we have to fear is fear itself.”

If we go through life not noticing the sunrises, if we worry about the uncertainty of tomorrow, the fiscal cliff, sequestration, terrorism, a fragile world economy, and on and on, then indeed Damocles’ sword will hang over our heads. I choose to see the sunrises. It is the season of giving. Let us lose ourselves in service to others that we might find true happiness.

He has not served who gathers gold,
Nor has he served, whose life is told
In selfish battles he has won,
Or deeds of skill that he has done;
But he has served who now and then
Has helped along his fellow men.

The world needs many men today;
Red-blooded men along life’s way,
With cheerful smiles and helping hands,
And with the faith that understands
The beauty of the simple deed
Which serves another’s hour of need.

Strong men to stand beside the weak,
Kind men to hear what others speak;
True men to keep our country’s laws
And guard its honor and its cause;
Men who will bravely play life’s game
Nor ask rewards of gold and fame.

Teach me to do the best I can
To help and cheer our fellow man;
Teach me to lose my selfish need
And glory in the larger deed
Which smoothes the road, and lights the day
For all who chance to come my way.
–Edgar Guest