Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Incidental Kind of Happiness

     Late last night, my brother, Adam, called me from the Cobb County Jail. He's been imprisoned there since before Christmas for a non-violent offense, which violated the terms of the probation he was serving for felony charges he'd incurred more than a decade ago. He'll be transferred to a state-run drug rehabilitation program soon. Initially, he wasn't too thrilled with this sentence, and had actually considered appealing it so he could continue to serve the remainder of his time in jail, with the thought that he'd probably be released sooner from jail than the drug rehab. The time he is currently serving doesn't count for anything; his time will start when he is transferred to the new facility. He is in a limbo of sorts right now. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for him. Once he gets out of prison, he will be starting life all over again, just like he did when he was released on parole ten years ago. If he successfully completes this drug rehab program, his slate will be wiped clean, with no remaining probation to serve.
     Adam chooses not to see his 4 year old daughter, Jerney, while he's institutionalized. Although it is doubtful that she would recall their visits when she's older, he prefers talking with her over the telephone. She believes he is working out of town. Although I think she would love to see him in person, I respect the choice he's made in this matter. Adam also has an adopted 20 year old stepdaughter, with whom he's always been very close. To my knowledge, she has never visited him, but they do communicate by telephone. Adam and Jerney's mother have been divorced for some time now, and prior to his incarceration, he spent every other weekend with Jerney. My mother, who is 77, has now assumed responsibility for those weekend visits, often making the full two-hour trip to middle Georgia to pick Jerney up on Thursday afternoons and deliver her back on Sunday. Tomorrow, Mom and I are taking Jerney to Cleveland, Georgia to visit Babyland General Hospital where we'll see Cabbage Patch 'babies" being "born." Jerney, who is brilliantly precocious for such a young child, is going be delighted. I can already imagine the myriad questions she'll have.
     I wonder if Jerney's happiness is what's sustaining Adam right now. Other than talking with her on the phone, he can't actively participate in doing things to make her happy. I know he grieves deeply over this. His lifelong melancholy seemed to dissipate when Jerney was born, perhaps because it was the first time he'd experienced love so selfless and pure. It really seemed to transform him. Regardless of the choices he's made recently, I'm convinced that transformation was real. I don't know that Adam himself is happy, but I can tell he's genuinely elated over Jerney's burgeoning enchantment with life. It's an incidental kind of happiness.
     I'm currently involved in an interesting discussion about altruism on the blogger forum I belong to. One of my friends, who goes by the username, "NothingProfound", wrote this aphorism: "Being happy for other people's happiness is the best kind of happiness." He then asked, "Is altruism a myth?" There are many people who don't believe in altruism, who think that even the kindest act is motivated by selfish concern. I think kindness is sincere when there are no attached expectations. In being happy for another person's happiness, we detach ourselves from any perceived personal gain or desire for reciprocity; we step out of ourselves to experience transcendent, selfless contentment, independent of an inner sense of happiness. In other words, one doesn't have to be happy to experience true happiness. It's as passive, gentle, and spontaneous as the rippling waves on a seashore which lap at your feet while you're standing still: this happiness washes over you. This kind of happiness just happens. My hope for Adam is that the happiness he feels for Jerney will continue to nourish his spirit, heal his pain, and eventually, become part of his being. I hope that one day, he'll be happy.


  1. I am sending you and your brother blessings. He sounds like a good guy who lost his way. I know that things can get better. My prayers are with you and your family.

    1. thanks, tony! i am feeling encouraged with his progress, and am happy to be re-establishing a relationship with him. i can't wait for the day he'll get to embrace Jerney again.