I am generally a happy person. Oh sure there are times when I do feel stress. Sometimes I feel anxious- especially if I am running late. Sometimes I feel down. Sometimes I pout, but I can't seem to stay in a funk all that long. But in general though I feel quite happy. I like to laugh. I know that I am very blessed with family, with friends, with a fulfilling vocation, with fairly good health. I have a roof over my head, I have shelter, I have food and drink, and I live without fear of war. Life is good. Ninety-five percent of the time, I feel truly happy. Sure a few detours come my way, that obscure the good for a while, but that just keeps life interesting.
But what if my life wasn't so blessed? Would I still be so happy? Isn't that what Job faced in the bible? Job lost everything, his material goods and his happiness. Would I still be happy then? I hope I don't have to find out.
This Thursday, I was invited to the 80th anniversary of Kristlenacht by the Jewish board of discipleship. Kristlenacht was the night in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland in 1938 when mobs of citizens burned 279 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses in the name of racial purity. Some 30,000 people were arrested that night for being Jewish and another ninety-one people were killed that night.
One person arrested that night was Eddie Jaku. Born in Leipzig, Germany in 1920, he had already suffered from much hatred in his life. He was forced to leave school at age 13 because he was Jewish. His father, using forged papers, got him into another school, but everyday Eddie worried that he would be found out and be expelled, or arrested, or even killed just for wanting to go to school as a Jew. On the night of Kristlenacht, Eddie was arrested and spent five months in a concentration camp. He was released and arrested again and eventually spent time in a number of concentration camps including Auschwitz. Members of his family were murdered in the camps. Eddie saw hundreds of Jewish leaders perish under Nazi rule. So many of his mentors and peers died because of hate.
Eddie could have let that hate burn inside of him. He had lost everything in life because of other's hatred of the Jewish people. He could have hated soldiers or Germans because of their cruelty. He could have sought vengeance seeking an eye for an eye for his pain and suffering? Who would blame him?
But Eddie did something else. He decided that hate was a disease and that he did not have to hate. He pledged to smile at least once a day. He declared himself to be the happiest person on earth. At age 98, Eddie has lived a life that was full of more pain and suffering than most everyone, yet Eddie chooses to smile.
Maybe that is something for us to keep in mind. Life is pretty good for much of the time, for most of us. Sure all of us have down times, but I think most of us are quite blessed. There are detours, yet as long as we don't obsess about the detours, we can be happy. Eddie managed to get through life focussing not on his challenges, but on his many blessings. Maybe we too can do the same. Blessings