How Did I Get To Be This Happy?

How Did I Get To Be This Happy?

If I put this question to an existentialist, the answer would be: “Because you’re inauthentic.  You walk around in bad faith.”  The human situation can be deemed absurd (if you’re feeling French) or productive of profound anxiety (if you’re feeling German).  But by no means can it be called a site of “happiness”!

Now let me ask a person from my native city.  From afar dimly, I can still make out that New York sound: 

“Puh-leese!  Don’t be disgusting.”

Okay.  Sorry.

Ah, here comes a postmodern person!  I’ll ask her how best to comprehend my present, unfamiliar state of happiness. 

         “You haven’t a clue about your actual state!  Your life is a fiction.  So, enjoy your self-report, so long as you don’t take it seriously!”

Well, canvassing the experts still leaves me in the dark.  Maybe my question is not one commonly asked.  I guess there’s no harm in asking myself this uncommon question.  I’m as good a detective as Nancy Drew and I’m reporting a change in how it feels to be me.  When did this change begin? asks the good detective.

We might start with what in my life has changed objectively during this year-of-the-pandemic.  For one thing, I’m running in the black at last with regard to three long-term debts of honor.  

First, the papers of my grandfather, whose pen name was Rav Tsair, have now been safely archived at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  He taught at HUC and is still studied and written about by Talmudic scholars, here and in Israel.  He was the towering figure of my childhood and I loved him.

Second, the pandemic opened a time window that allowed me to go through the materials of Henry M. Rosenthal, my father – a huge collection of letters, journals and manuscripts, thus coming to a better grasp of the enormously magnetic and gifted man he was.  His shorter pieces are being posted at https://independent.academia.edu/RosenthalHenry thus facilitating the next steps with respect to archiving.

Third, Elmer Sprague, my senior colleague and comrade-in-arms, died this year.  He was a man who went to every graduation, wedding, bar mitzvah and funeral belonging to his “station and duty.”  So I know he’d never forgive me if I failed to get a proper obit into the American Philosophical Association’s Proceedings and Addresses.  With the help of some faithful colleagues, and a few months of homework from me, we got it in.

So much for debts of honor.  Was there anything else on the “objective” side?  Well yes, one does work in the world and mine takes shape as writing.  What’s new in that realm?

Confessions of a Young Philosopher is now as good as I can make it and I expect its publication this year.  Since I believe stories and pictures belong together, it will include some very nice illustrations.  The kind that novels used to have, even though this is a true story.

A Good Look at Evil is now available on Amazon/Audible as an audiobook.  Having listened to Matthew Cohn’s inspired reading, I myself have come to think the book truthful, helpful, unpretentious and original.

Dear Abbie: the Non-Advice Column has become a way for me to reach out to more readers than I ever had within professional confines.  And people who know me, or care about my life, get the breaking news almost as soon as I live it.

We come now to the inner changes.  First, my relation to God has changed.  I don’t know why and don’t well understand it, but the God toward whom I’ve ordinarily turned my face upward to pray – as Someone at a distance – seems to have moved down and gotten closer to where I am.  At first, I found this quite disconcerting – regarding it almost as a loss.  But little by little I’ve gotten used to it and realized it doesn’t signify that God has merged with me — or that I’ve lost the God who is not me.  Just that it’s become a more synchronous interaction.

On the inward plane, another puzzle piece moved into place with my recent reading of Martin Buber’s hasidic tales.  The saints of that tradition made suggestions about forgiveness that I wrote about here last week.  Internalizing their cryptic hints has eased certain moral burdens.  Up till now, I’ve felt oddly responsible for those who had injured me.  I carried the memories they had conveniently repressed, against such time as they might return to claim (to face) those inflicted injuries and take them off my hands.  Now the zaddikim prescribed the following script and it seemed to work just about as they’d said:

Here, Lord, you take it —

along with the moral bookkeeping —

and I’ve felt noticeably lighter ever since.  It doesn’t mean I “forgive” someone’s injuries to another.  Or that I whitewash the memory of what happened.  Or that I don’t try to repair whatever’s reparable by me.  Only that I’ve shifted the spiritual burden over to the One better equipped to carry it.

I note one other inward change: from the horse.  Lately, I’ve been unable to ride California because a touch of chill (mine) was succeeded by lots of snow and ice, falling and whipping round the neighborhood.  In the interlude, a delayed-take revelation sank in: I’ve had a reunion with a horse who knows me as well as I can be known – not on all levels of course – but intimately and straight from the shoulder!

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at videos of animal communicators.  It’s a new field with an international cast of practitioners.  Their human/animal interactions on film are quite readable, like human-to-human interactions when you turn off the sound.  Animals have deep emotional states and powers.  They bond with humans.  They can be offended – nay traumatized! – by humans.  Their complaints make sense.  Their personalities are distinct.

What change has this made in my awareness?  The natural world itself now seems good or at least filled with goodness.  The trees seem to send greetings and to get them in return.  The sky joins the chorus.  I no longer feel invaded by sorrow as if by a second nature.

My natural state

 of cheerfulness

reasserts itself –

 after so many years!

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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