Archive for the ‘Thomas Merton’ Category

In America, it’s very easy to be confused about happiness.

According to Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence upon which this great country was built, all men are created equal and have been given by God the inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

According to Dr. Phil, happiness is a choice. “Happiness can be a feeling that comes from filling your days with what matters to you, living authentically, or working for what you want.”

According to the direct marketers on TV, you can achieve happiness and the life you’ve always wanted by losing weight, exercising your abs, earning millions of dollars from home or by growing more hair.

In The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner is just trying to survive.

Struggling to make ends meet, Gardner (Will Smith) is a determined but ineffective salesman in San Francisco during the early 80s. With the support of his wife, he invests their combined savings into an exclusive territory to sell portable bone density scanners to hospitals and physician offices.

He soon realizes that the scanners are a luxury many health professionals can’t afford. Despite his best efforts, the scanners are slow to leave their small apartment. Rent payments can’t be made, parking tickets can’t be paid and the couple argues often about their current situation and their future.

There’s no disagreement, however, about their love for their son Christopher (Smith’s real life son Jaden Smith). They both care deeply for him and work hard to remain good parents.

Chris hears about an internship program with Dean Witter in which he would learn to become a stock broker. Although he never attended college (the real life Chris Gardner entered the Navy after high school), Gardner has always been good with numbers.

He impresses one of the partners with his intellect by solving the Rubik’s Cube in a very short time and wins an interview for the internship program.

Unfortunately, the bills, expenses and pressures continue to mount. Chris’s wife can not handle the bad times and moves to New York, leaving Chris to raise his son by himself.

Gardner is then told he must leave the apartment in a week because he can’t pay the rent. As he helps his landlord by painting the apartment, policemen arrive and arrest him for the unpaid parking tickets, forcing him to stay overnight in jail.

His life continues to spiral downward. He joins the six-month internship program but discovers there is no pay check. There is hope for a paid position at the end, but only one of the twenty interns will be chosen.

He is forced to work quickly during a six-hour day in order to pick his son up from daycare and then take a bus across town to get in line outside a homeless shelter. One night there is no room, so he and his son wander around town until they find refuge in a subway restroom.Happyness

Yet in the midst of this terrible situation, Gardner talks freely with his son, keeping their spirits high above the hardships they face. Through it all, especially in the eyes of his son, Gardner continues to be a “good Papa.”

At first glance, the film is a traditional Horatio Alger story – a poor man works hard and overcomes many obstacles to succeed and live the American dream.

But when you consider that Gardner was working not to get rich for himself but to create a better life for his son, the pursuit of happiness takes on a different meaning. It’s no longer happiness with fancy cars and new clothes, it’s “happyness” with love and consideration for others.

As parents, we understand that hard work, hard choices and a hard life are often necessary to provide food, shelter and good education to our children.

Yet we risk getting caught up in the American dream of acquiring the newest and best of everything. Sometimes the focus shifts away from care for others and focuses on acquiring more stuff.

Jesus said that we should “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God.” (Luke 20:25) It’s important to keep this lesson in mind as we pursue our dreams.

Near the end of the film Gardner and his son get away from the city and enjoy Golden Gate Park. Their future is still unknown, yet they delight in the love they share as they play in the park.

According to Catholic author and spiritualist Thomas Merton, “a happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found…true happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared.”

May our daily pursuits be mindful of what belongs to God, so that we can focus on a true “happyness” that can be shared with others.

First published in the January 26, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio

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Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?

Going off to college for the first time is a very exciting time for students – a new bedroom, a new school, new friends and new freedoms.

For parents, however, it’s a whole different story.

In the midst of shopping to outfit a dorm room, rearranging work schedules around a trip to campus and organizing finances to write tuition checks, many parents will stop and wonder this month: where did all those years go?

I don’t remember growing older, when did they?

It seems like only last year that my oldest son made his first Communion. Then a couple months later he won that trophy at the forensics contest. Two months after that he joined the high school marching band. Just last week he joined the university marching band.

Time is not what it used to be. My four years in college seemed like an eternity.

Thirty years later, four years of high school are just four blinks. Poof, gone. Last year our daughter left for college, this year it’s our oldest son.

It’s sad to see them leave home, away from our protective nest. Are they prepared to be on their own? Did we do everything as parents to help them get ready?

We think so; though we worry it’s not enough. We just want what’s best for our children, like the character Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) in the current film Click.

Motivated to provide a good life for his family, Newman cancels a long-planned camping trip to work on a project for his inconsiderate boss (David Hasselhoff). But when Newman can’t find the TV remote to watch a planning DVD, he drives to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond.

There he talks to Morty (Christopher Walken) who handles products in the “Way Beyond” department. Newman happily leaves the store with a new universal remote with wondrous powers.

In a short time Newman learns that he can fast forward through arguments with his wife, mute the barking dog and pause time to torment the neighborhood brat.

ClickHe also discovers that he can fast forward through his big work project. As he tells his wife, all he wants to do is get through the daily grind to the stage in his life when he can be the boss. Then he can finally spend quality time with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and their two children.

But life is not a destination, it’s a journey. If you wait until you arrive at a destination to enjoy life, you’ve already missed it.

Newman finds out that there are dire consequences to his fast forwarding. When he is under the influence of the remote, he is on auto pilot, barely speaking to his family, concentrating only on his work.

His family drifts away during this neglect. His wife divorces him and remarries. His own health deteriorates from years of eating fast food and unhealthy snacks. Even his son shows the same signs of a “business first” attitude. Newman finally understands what he missed and regrets how he let his work (and the remote) control his universe.

With our children going off to college, it’s easy to look back and feel some regret – the big game missed, the ‘N Sync concert tickets not purchased, the Disney vacation during their “perfect ages” not taken.

But regret is a crippling emotion. It can clamp down on you like a pair of too small gym shorts, overwhelming your thoughts until you take them off.

Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand’s famous author of short stories wrote, “Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; you can only wallow in it.”

Instead, we should view our children through the words of Thomas Merton: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

I don’t lament that our children have out grown out of pajamas with feet. Now that they are older, we can enjoy new adventures and experiences (they may even understand more of my jokes). I am comforted in knowing that my wife and I will always be their parents, ready to support, guide and love.

When I grew up in my parents’ house, my mother had a framed needlepoint hanging on the wall. It read “The best things we can give our children are roots and wings.”

So fly away Connor, fly away Kristin, may God keep you and all the college students safe until you come home again.

First published in the August 11, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.

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