Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. ~Benjamin Franklin

All too often, in our culture, we wait for situations to conform to a specific outcome before we will allow ourselves to feel happy. We believe that the stars must be aligned. We wait for Mr. (or Ms.) Right to come along. We hope that our dream job will be offered to us, that the extra 20 pounds we're carrying around our middle will vanish or that we will move into our dream house. We desperately want to be seen as more valuable, more intelligent, more attractive and more successful. We just feel, in our heart of hearts, that if we can achieve these traits that lie just outside our grasp, that then, and only then, will we be happy.

I'm just as guilty of this as the next woman. I wish I were taller and thinner. I wish my hair didn't look quite so dreadful. I wish I were a much better cook. I wish my home looked just as perfect, at every moment, as if it were about to appear in an issue of Better Homes & Gardens. I wish I had more friends. I wish my writing was more insightful. I wish I were more intelligent, articulate, attractive and successful. Most of all, I wish that I wouldn't have all of these wishes. I wish I could feel absolutely complete and content without wishing.

When I had first read the quote by Benjamin Franklin, I was both inspired and more than just a
little intimidated. I have always enjoyed Mr. Franklin's wit and humor. I enjoyed his take on the 'Pursuit of Happiness' ideal set forth in the Constitution. Yet, I was also chastened. Did one of the most powerful thinkers of our nation's history truly mean for *me* to go catch my own happiness? Herein, lies the issue I felt immediately: I did not feel qualified to go chasing down my own happiness. What a frightening thought! I was meant to go take risks, endure possible humiliation and never, for certain, attain my dreams? What if I tried, with all my might and all my power, to grasp those 'wishes' and fell short? I was terrified beyond measure.

At this moment I learned something invaluable about myself: I was so stymied by my own fear of failure that I was going to allow happiness to pass me by. I discovered, sadly, that I was far more content to hold my wishes close and secret, than I was to try to chase them down and risk
losing them forever. A large part of me has always worried that, by naming what I wish for, and working to attain it, I will lose the possibility of that wish coming true. As long as I don't try for my dreams, then I won't be disappointed. In the meantime, I'm setting myself up for a lifetime of sitting around wishing, waiting, hoping and never taking a risk. I also realized that by not even trying, I am not allowing myself the moments of happiness and contentment that are to be found in everyday life.
Therefore, I plan to do a great deal more doing, and a great deal less dreaming. I plan to become more involved in own my life, and less of an observer. I plan to count my blessings more, and my difficulties less. I plan to love more, and criticize less. Above all, I plan to catch my own happiness....and wait for it less.

I just wish thinner thighs were a part of the bargain.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Book of Lies

"....and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?" Genesis 4:8-9

Brad Meltzer's new novel, "The Book of Lies", is a roller coaster of emotion, fast paced action, and fascinating ideas. The story, which is one third Indiana Jones, another third Da Vinci Code,
and a third part pure invention, holds the reader's attention from the first chapter onward. The plot centers around a family saga regarding the weapon that Cain used to kill Abel that day in a jealous rage in the field. This is not a theoretical or folklore recitation of what might have taken place. Rather, it's the extraordinary journey that crosses religions, beliefs, and even all sense of time to find out not only if the weapon existed, but if such a tool could have survived to the present day. Additionally, the novel's protagonist hunts for keys to the real story of Cain and Abel. Could Cain have been
provoked? How was he marked following his confrontation with God? What more could there be to the story than the 4th Chapter of Genesis alludes to?

I have a passion for archeology. In college, I considered seriously switching my major from Developmental Psychology to Ancient Civilizations. I read Homer, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. I studied Mesopotamian, Persian, Goth and Celtic lore. I wrote long essays on the Roman contribution to the western world, as well as passionate theories of the Library of Alexandria's potential contents. However, nothing captured my attention the way that Biblical archeology did. It was fascinating to learn more about the most likely sites for Moses to have received the Ten Commandments, for Joshua to have stopped the sun's progress in the sky to allow victory at Jericho and to learn the most likely hometown of Queen Esther. Biblical archeology is different from other types of reclaiming dig sites. Why? Because the results can be explosive. There are many belief systems that find the digging of possibly sacred sites to be disrespectful of the dead. There are others who believe that taking the Bible on faith is far more valuable than finding the preaching locations of the Prophet Isaiah or Jonah's Ninevah. Additionally, since most of the Middle East is fully settled into a modern, yet complicated and dangerous, society, there aren't as many dig sites as there could be. After all.....those steps of Isaiah could take the archeology team through someone's living room.

Yet, there persists a fascination with the ideas of linking the Bible to our lives today. What better way to do this than by collecting artifacts to prove the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah...or the Ark of the Covenant? "Indiana Jones & Raiders of the Lost Ark" captured my imagination. I was 15 when I first saw the film, and I don't believe that it's ever left me. The premise of the movie, that there truly still existed the original ornate box that the Hebrew people held the original Ten Commandments, sparked a lifelong connection to this specialized field. At one point in the movie, the villain tells Indiana Jones "to find the Ark is to find the hand of God." Looking at the story as a teen, I knew that, to hold something in my hand that was truly God given....would be the most exceptional experience of my life. Although I have never been to the Holy Land, I can easily imagine
walking around the Pyramids, exploring the hills near Jericho, looking at the Dead Sea's depths, wandering through Bethlehem and walking the Via de la Rosa in Jerusalem. It would be similar to walking in the footsteps of giants. I could only hope but imagine that I, too, was walking over the same ground that held Abraham, Isaac, Jospeh, Moses, Ruth, Daniel and Jesus. I can imagine the heady feeling of coming across a place, or an artifact, that truly belonged to these Biblical figures.

Still, do Biblical artifacts have a place in faith? One only has to look at the Medieval practice of selling 'relics' for forgiveness of sins to know that there is the potential for terrible abuse.In the Middle Ages, the selling of slivers of the "True Cross", bones of the saints, scraps of cloth belonging to the Disciples or bits of earth from the Holy Land were common place. People purchased both as penance and as 'good luck charms'. It was believed that these small relics could heal the sick, and even protect against the Plague. When the Protestant Reformation began, one of the key points to the arguments presented by men, like Martin Luther, was the wholesale trade of these counterfeit archaeological finds. Since then, proof has been shown that some saints' bones were really belonging to dogs and cats, and that the wood supposed to be the actual Cross of Christ was not only European, but probably not even old at the time of the sale to an unsuspecting buyer.

This brings us back to "The Book of Lies": does there need to be a weapon found for this story to have merit? Do we need incontrovertible proof of its existence? There is a fascinating with Cain and Abel...not only were they the first alleged siblings to humankind, but also the first murderer and murder victim. To find the weapon used in such a slaying would be ground breaking. It would answer questions, and give insights into the 'prehistoric' time in which the brothers existed. Still, is the story any less meaningful if we can't reconstruct the crime scene, as they do on CSI? Biblical archaeologists, theologians, scientists and historians have been arguing this question for years, and will continue to do so for decades. I believe that these archaeological digs provide us with fascinating views of Ancient Civilization. Having been to Pompeii, and walked on the avenues, experiencing how the Ancient Romans lived, I know that these spectacular finds can be edifying and educational at the same time. Yet, would finding a relic, like Cain's weapon, make, or destroy, my faith? Unlikely in either scenario. I believe that science, history and faith can all walk hand in hand. The thought that Troy was myth, only to proven in the last century, is the point that there is indeed fact within unproven story.

We take study the sites we have discovered. We can look at amazing finds in museums. We can learn from the Bedouins today how life may have been similar to those in Biblical times. But the rest? We just have to take on faith and ask ourselves what lessons can be learned.