Note: this essay is a reflection on journal notes scribbled back in July 2015.
My friend Amy had sent me a Facebook message, catching up after our being out of touch for a little while. I was dealing with the trigeminal neuralgia and other chronic pain issues that I try my best to manage and then ignore as much as possible, but which have impacted my life. Apropos of nothing, she wrote: I just want you to be happy (with lots of exclamation points)! It’s a lovely sentiment, really. It got me thinking about a lot of things, especially, you know, what is happiness? I can remember—sometimes it feels like I was still in high school, but it’s probable it wasn’t until I went off to college, having taken an introduction to philosophy class during freshman year, when I was introduced to a manner of philosophical questioning that has helped to shape how I think about things ever since–an experience of walking with my dad. Walking and talking, my memory is that we were on Fifth Avenue, walking along Central Park in New York City. At some point, I decided to muster the courage to ask him something I’d never discussed with him. I can’t recall why I had this question, but I did and I asked: Dad, are you happy? He looked at me and said something like “I don’t even understand that question. What is happy?” I don’t remember every detail of what he said but I remember the essence of his response. Which, if you knew my dad, you’d know that I’m telling you the truth. He said that happiness it’s not some sort of amorphous, fleeting thing. I’m happy with the things that I’m doing in my life, and I feel productive. What more can anybody ask for? This response was so Dick Marcus, quick and pragmatic. It was not his inclination, as I came to understand better much later in life, to think about things in that way. He wanted to know “are you doing OK? Are you doing work that you love? Can you support yourself?” He didn’t even talk about money that much with me, it was sort of a given that it was important to be able to support oneself. He spoke more about are you enjoying what you’re doing? Are you productive? Always, always, are you doing work that you love?
This started out as a philosophical consideration, a search for some definition of happiness. But I see that it becomes for me about feeling productive, enjoying my work. For everything that didn’t go right in my father’s life, for every mistake he made—and he made mistakes—he was also a loving person, and he lived his message. He loved his job. He was retired from the NYPD for more years than he was on the job, and it was so much more than an affiliation for him. He loved his work. Even on days when the system drove him nuts, he loved what he did. He believed in what he did.
It’s a point of reflection for me, because having made a long transition from my previous work, having wondered deeply about why I am here and what is my purpose, my feeling is that I shouldn’t be spending tremendous amounts of time doing what I don’t love, and which I don’t particularly believe is serving anyone much good.
Which leads to my next questions: what is “work”, what is “good”? I’ll get around to that after a while. For now, it makes me (deep breath) happy to finally understand why it’s essential to make it a priority to always, always, do what I love. If I steady my sights on that, I’ll keep my bearings, be of the most service to others, and have the most energy and enthusiasm possible in all my endeavors. If this resonates for you, take it with you.
Three years after my father’s death, he is still teaching me important things.