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The Pursuit of Happiness MAG
Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. We’re all entitled to these. The Declaration of Independence says so. However, the question remains: What is the pursuit of happiness?
I created my own definition of this elusive idea one day a long time ago, not even comprehending that I had defined it. At the time all I knew was that I was not happy.
That day I squinted against the sun beating on my face, shifting my weight to find a more comfortable spot on the cement steps, although cement isn’t what I would call comfortable. A burst of boisterous laughter made me glance at the brick house behind me. I saw various relatives swarming about gloomily holding plates of food and smiling weakly. Many wore black, and the traces of tears on their cheeks gave away the facade of cheerfulness.
I scowled at the men in black leather whizzing by on their obnoxious beasts. Stupid motorcycles.
“Loud, aren’t they?”
I looked up to see who dared interrupt my sulking and was greeted by yet another unknown relic ... I mean, relative. I sullenly looked back at the street and concentrated on being cranky, but I couldn’t seem to focus. The man beside me was too interesting. With a pair of leather chaps and a cowboy hat, he was intriguingly similar to Clint Eastwood.
His leathered neck was partially concealed with a bright red bandana, but I knew that protection from the sun wasn’t the reason he wore it: He was hiding something, a small black abyss about the size of a penny. The skin around it was wrinkled, and the hole seemed to be trying to suck his neck in, like a vacuum.
What in the world is a random hole doing in someone’s neck? I wondered to myself. It doesn’t look right.
I had never heard of such a thing. It was unique, alien, and definitely creepy. No wonder I had to fight the urge to run when I first saw it. I could probably fit my finger in it if I tried, but I realized that would be rude.
“Want to go for a walk?” he asked as if he sensed my discomfort.
I nodded and found myself strolling up and down the sidewalk hand in hand with my Great Uncle Clayton.
The quiet houses and willow trees reminded me of Mayberry on a Sunday afternoon. Every lawn was perfect. The smell of freshly cut grass and homemade fried chicken hung in the air. A man stood watering his lawn while his wife knelt by her flower bed, wearing a sun hat. A dog watched us from under a porch, a butterfly waved as it floated softly by, and the breeze whispered in our ears.
His cool hand enveloped mine, and his vibrant eyes snapped as he listened to me talk nineteen to the dozen. I chirped about my family and school, mostly how today had been the first day of school and I was sad because I was missing hot dogs for lunch. I told him there were exotic nuns visiting us from far away and that I wanted to be a nun when I grew up so I could wear their pretty outfits made of yards and yards of peachy-pink gauze.
I described my bold brothers, my passion for ice cream, and the downy, mischievous kittens I loved to play with at home. My uncle grinned and listened to me ramble, encouraging my chattering by laughing and asking a question occasionally.
As we walked along the sleepy streets of my grandparents’ town, I began to change my view of Uncle Clayton. He no longer was a retired cowboy but seemed an older Andy Griffith, especially after he told me that the hole in his neck was from smoking. A gun-slinging cowboy would have gotten it from a bullet, a bar fight, or even a snake bite, but not smoking. He definitely fit the description of Andy Griffith: tall, thin, white hair, and sparkly eyes that squinted against the sun. The fact that he took me out for ice cream didn’t hurt either.
“You know what, Uncle Clayton?” I said as I licked the dribbles of strawberry ice cream running down my cone. “At first I didn’t want to come today, but now I’m glad I did ’cuz I got to meet you. I’m happy now. I wasn’t happy earlier.”
My great uncle smiled and said softly, “I’m glad that you’re happy. That is the most important thing in the world. To pursue your happiness.”
After a long moment he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Now you probably shouldn’t tell your mother that I bought you ice cream. I might get in trouble.”
“Oh, I won’t tell. Pinky swear,” I promised, completely oblivious that he was joking. “I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“You’d better pay more attention to your ice cream,” he pointed out, and I began licking my cone in earnest, trying to catch the spills with my tongue. I wasn’t very successful, however, and as the melted strawberry goo began to slide down my arm and threatened to drip on my clothes, he laughed, handing me bunches of napkins.
I never saw my great uncle again. He died a couple of weeks later. I never cried. I had only known him for that one day, and yet it felt like a lifetime. In just one day he had taught me something that can take a lifetime to learn. Often I think about his words. The wisdom of my uncle’s age and the innocence of mine finally showed me the truth.
I don’t know if my great uncle was happy that day, but I know I was. I had ice cream to eat and kittens to play with. I had a mommy and daddy and two older brothers who let me tag along. I had blue skies, sunshine, and someone’s hand to hold. I had life. I had liberty. And I was happy. What was there left to pursue?