Passage 41. The 50-Percent Theory of Life
I believe in the 50-percent theory.
Half the time things are better than normal; the other half, they are worse.
I believe life is a pendulum swing.
It takes time and experience to understand what normal is,
and that gives me the perspective to deal with the surprises of the future.
Let’s benchmark the parameters: Yes, I will die.
I’ve dealt with the deaths of both parents, a best friend, a beloved boss and cherished pets.
Some of these deaths have been violent, before my eyes, or slow and agonizing.
Bad stuff, and it belongs at the bottom of the scale.
Then there are those high points: romance and marriage to the right person;
having a child and doing those Dad things like coaching my son’s baseball team,
paddling around the creek in the boat while he’s swimming with the dogs;
discovering his compassion so deep it manifests even in his kindness to snails,
his imagination so vivid he builds a spaceship from a scattered pile of Legos.
But there is a vast meadow of life in the middle, where the bad and the good flip-flop acrobatically.
This is what convinces me to believe in the 50-percent theory.
One spring I planted corn too early in a bottomland so flood-prone that neighbors laughed.
I felt chagrined at the wasted effort.
Summer turned brutal—the worst heat wave and drought in my lifetime.
The air-conditioner died, the well went dry, the marriage ended, the job lost, the money gone.
I was living lyrics from a country tune—music I loathed.
Only a surging Kansas City Royals team, bound for their first World Series, buoyed my spirits.
Looking back on that horrible summer,
I soon understood that all succeeding good things merely offset the bad.
Worse than normal wouldn’t last long.
I am owed and savor the halcyon times.
They reinvigorate me for the next nasty surprise and offer assurance that I can thrive.
The 50-percent theory even helps me see hope beyond my Royals’ recent slump,
a field of struggling rookies sown so that some year soon we can reap an October harvest.
Passage 42. The Road to Happiness
If you look around at the men and women whom you can call happy,
you will see that they all have certain things in common.
The most important of these things is an activity which at most gradually builds up something
that you are glad to see coming into existence.
Women who take an instinctive pleasure in their children
can get this kind of satisfaction out of bringing up a family.
Artists and authors and men of science get happiness in this way
if their own work seems good to them.
But there are many humbler forms of the same kind of pleasure.
Many men who spend their working life in the city
devote their weekends to voluntary and unremunerated toil in their gardens,
and when the spring comes, they experience all the joys of having created beauty.
The whole subject of happiness has, in my opinion,been treated too solemnly.
It had been thought that man cannot be happy without a theory of life or a religion.
Perhaps those who have been rendered unhappy by a bad theory
may need a better theory to help them to recovery,
just as you may need a tonic when you have been ill.
But when things are normal a man should be healthy without a tonic
and happy without a theory.
It is the simple things that really matter.
If a man delights in his wife and children, has success in work,
and finds pleasure in the alternation of day and night, spring and autumn,
he will be happy whatever his philosophy may be.
If, on the other hand, he finds his wife fateful, his children’s noise unendurable,
and the office a nightmare;
if in the daytime he longs for night, and at night sighs for the light of day,
then what he needs is not a new philosophy but a new regimen
—a different diet, or more exercise, or what not.
Man is an animal, and his happiness depends on his physiology more than he likes to think.
This is a humble conclusion, but I cannot make myself disbelieve it.
Unhappy businessmen, I am convinced,would increase their happiness more
by walking six miles every day
than by any conceivable change of philosophy.
Passage 43. Two Views of the River
Now when I had mastered the language of this water,
and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river
as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet,
I had made a valuable acquisition.
But I had lost something, too.
I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived.
All the grace, the beauty, the poetry, had gone out of the majestic river!
I still kept in mind a certain wonderful sunset which I witnessed
when steamboating was new to me.
A broad expanse of the river was turned to blood;
in the middle distance the red hue brightened into gold,
through which a solitary log came floating, black and conspicuous;
in one place, a long slanting mark lay sparkling upon the water;
in another the surface was broken by boiling, tumbling rings,
that were as many-tinted as an opal;
where the ruddy flush was faintest,
was a smooth spot that was covered with graceful circles and radiating lines,
ever so delicately traced;
the shore on our left was densely wooded,
and the somber shadow that fell from this forest
was broken in one place by a long, ruffled trail that shone like silver;
and high above the forest wall a clean-stemmed dead tree waved a single leafy bough
that glowed like a flame in the unobstructed splendor that was flowing from the sun.
There were graceful curves,reflected images, woody heights,soft distances;
and over the whole scene, far and near, the dissolving lights drifted steadily,
enriching it every passing moment with new marvels of coloring.