Oct. 1, 2001

So Much Happiness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

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Poem: "So Much Happiness," by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words under the Words (The Eighth Mountain Press).

So Much Happiness

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

It's the birthday of American novelist and short story writer Judith Freeman, born in Ogden, Utah (1946). Her first book was a collection of short stories called Family Attraction (1988). She followed this up with her first novel, The Chinchilla Farm (1989), a road novel about a Mormon woman who packs all of her belongings into a livestock trailer and heads for L.A. after her husband walks out.

It's the birthday of William Timothy (Tim) O'Brien, born in Austin, Minnesota (1946). He won the National Book Award in 1979 for his novel Going After Cacciato (1978), about the experiences of a soldier in Vietnam. O'Brien was drafted and sent to Vietnam soon after his graduation from Macalester College in 1968. He served in the Army for three years, reached the rank of sergeant, and was awarded a Purple Heart. When he came back home, he started turning his wartime experiences into material for fiction. His first book was If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), a semi-autobiographical story of an infantryman's year in Vietnam. His other books include The Things They Carried (1990), In the Lake of the Woods (1994), and Tomcat in Love (1998). Writing good stories, he says, "requires a sense of passion, and my passion as a human being and as a writer intersect in Vietnam, not in the physical stuff but in the issues of Vietnam: of courage, rectitude, enlightenment, holiness, trying to do the right thing in the world."

It's the birthday of historian and Librarian of Congress emeritus Daniel Joseph Boorstin, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1914). As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he took first-class honors in jurisprudence and was admitted as a barrister to the Inner Temple in 1937. Two years later, he returned to the United States to teach history, first at Harvard and then at the University of Chicago. He left Chicago in 1969 to become the director of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution and in 1975 moved on to become the Librarian of Congress, a post he held until 1987. He's best-known for his three-volume history, The Americans. The third volume, titled The Americans: The Democratic Experience, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

It's the birthday of American poet Louis Untermeyer, born in New York City (1885). After he dropped out of high school, he went to work as a salesman for his father's jewelry manufacturing business. In 1923 he resigned from the company to devote himself to his literary interests. In the next 54 years, before his death in 1977, he published 22 books of his own poetry but became best known for the poetry anthologies he edited.

On this date in 1856, the Revue de Paris published the first installment of Gustave Flaubert's tragic story of a disappointed country doctor's wife, Madame Bovary. The novel's realistic treatment of adultery and suicide prompted obscenity charges to be brought against the author in the following year. He was acquitted, and the novel became a classic of French literature.

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