Why I Failed to Notice that I’m Happy

Why I Failed to Notice that I’m Happy

Lately, I’ve been passing through what a friend called “a perfect storm” of setbacks.  When they mount to a certain number, you can’t tell what’s big and what’s little.  Anyway, they came to the point where, in tears, I said aloud, 

“I can’t do this any more.”

First came the fractured toe.  We had to postpone our scheduled trip to California for neuropathy treatments.  They’ve been the only treatments that did any good, but – put off too long – a slide backwards is noticeable.  Neuropathy limits the kinds of physical exercise and recreation one can enjoy, but even these were placed off limits by the toe injury.  Meantime, Jerry’s been going through what he’s termed a “dental apocalypse,” for which his regular dentist referred him to The Fixer in New Jersey for what amounted to out-patient surgery.  Meanwhile, when I was in the midst of transferring all the information from my lemon of a computer to a still-newer computer (this one possibly not a lemon), our computer technician became unreachable by phone or email.  We haven’t seen her since the delicate information transfer began.  It’s like your house builder leaving in the rain before the roof is on.  Meantime, the Israel/Hamas war began with the media somehow failing to recall who started it.  With a life-long but oft-troubled friendship a possible casualty.  Finally, a loved collegial friend is in a health crisis that so far resists medical remedy and shadows my days.

At our brunch yesterday, Jerry — who knows my narrow-angled taste in music — placed a gift bag containing two country music cd’s in front of my plate.  One was a bluegrass album titled “Carolina Blue,” the other was by an artist new to me, Luke Combs, called “What You See Is What You Get.”  

I love presents and Jerry finds great cards.  This card showed a rather bug-eyed character with hair standing on end, barefoot and wearing a light blue night shirt.  The character stands on a giant jig-saw puzzle that folds out, missing pieces of which are falling from the sky along with the caption that reads,

Don’t worry.

Sooner or later

Everything falls into place.

If the anguish of my recent days is understandable, what is less easy to comprehend is how and why I got up this morning, sat for meditation, and realized that … I’m quite happy.


Is there something wrong with me?  Am I “out of touch with my feelings”?

Friends, rest easy.  That’s one defect I don’t have.  If it’s there to be felt, I’ll feel it.

So what do I mean by “happy”?  How did that get to be an accurate self-characterization?

There’s a midrashic story, told in my childhood, that might shed some light here.  Here’s how it goes:

A householder in distress comes to see a rabbi known for his wisdom.  

“Rabbi,” says the householder, “my life has become unbearable.  As you know, we live in a one-room house.  Now my wife’s mother has moved in with us.  She puts her nose in everything.  We have no privacy.  My wife complains that I don’t like her mother.  Our marital life is now embittered.  My mother-in-law entertains a gossipy neighbor right in our kitchen which is also our front parlor.  My sister parked her oldest son with us for the month.  Now my wife’s pregnant again though we can’t afford another child and there is no room to put him anywhere.”

“I see,” said the rabbi.  “Very good.  Now this is what you must do.  Take the cow, the goat and the chickens from the yard and move them into your house.”  

“Respected rabbi!  How can you advise such a thing!  We’ll go crazy!”

“Just do it and come back in two weeks.”

The faithful congregant sighed and shook his head, but did as he was told.  After two weeks, he came back to the rabbi.

“Now,” said the rabbi, “remove the cow, the goat and the chickens, and return to me after two days.”

“Okay, we did that,” reported the householder two days later.

“And how do you feel now?”

“Oh, it’s such a relief!  It’s like paradise now!”

We’ve found another computer technician.  Jerry’s dental apocalypse has been competently treated and is healing.  My toe isn’t right yet but it’s better.  The anti-semites still have their Jews-on-the-brain-problem, but have slightly less to talk about in the present lull.  I might find a way to steer my long but troubled female friendship into stiller waters.  My loved collegial friend whose condition isn’t remedied is a sturdy soul and could well weather this one too, with God’s help and my fervent hopes.

So I’m in the position of the rabbi’s parishioner.  The cow, the goat and the chickens are back in the yard and things look a lot better.  Good enough, in fact, for the many blessings in my life to come into view once again.  For which I am happily grateful.

Evidently, there are many ways that the present restorations could each come undone.  Or new and worse dangers could present themselves.  What would become of my just-restored happiness then?

The fact is: our lives, as human beings, are threatened lives.  We could die suddenly, or be surprised by some accident leaving us in much worse shape than we are now.  Health could go.  Needful things and precious people could be lost.  It could all go.  What then?  

The threatened lives we live

are precisely the lives we love.

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.
This entry was posted in Absurdism, Action, Afterlife, Alienation, Anthropology, Art, Art of Living, Atheism, Autonomy, bad faith, beauty, bigotry, Childhood, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courage, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Existentialism, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, Guilt and Innocence, Health, hegemony, Heroes, hidden God, History, history of ideas, Ideality, Identity, Jews, Journalism, Judaism, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Martyrdom, Masculinity, Memoir, memory, Mind Control, Modern Women, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, morality, Mortality, motherhood, non-violence, Ontology, Oppression, pacifism, Past and Future, Peace, Philosophy, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, promissory notes, Psychology, public facade, Reading, Reductionism, relationships, Religion, Roles, secular, self-deception, Sex Appeal, Sexuality, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, Sociobiology, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, Terror, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, twenty-first century, victimhood, victims, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Why I Failed to Notice that I’m Happy

  1. Mary Goldstein says:

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful post.

    I am touched to have been in, though I wish it has not been to add to your woes. I loved your saying I was sturdy and Boe I have ecwvwn more reason to got my pulse rate down. As I and those who can help me shall.

    Yes, the lives are loved precisely because they, we, are so vulnerable

    Love, Marele

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Abigail says:

      Vulnerable is okay, but let’s walk it back. No need to go THAT far! They say, HIs eye is on the sparrow & you’re of more value than many sparrows.

  2. malagailpedrick says:

    Dear Abbie…trade you a toe for two broken feet…and a VERY SORE right arm and shoulder from all the lifting of my body ..in and out of tub to my walker etc..since May 8th…..hope you and Jerry can make it to Leon”s on Tues 29th of June,,,hopefully we both can walk in like we were 18….ah to be 18 again..Gail


Leave a Reply