Park Bench Poverty and Happiness

It was the first day I travelled without my camera. It was the day I needed it the most. The morning drive had proven ripe with once in a lifetime out of the ordinary images, in what was a rather ordinary day on an ordinary street.

Conservative talk show host, Dennis Prager filled the air waves with his weekly special of “The Happiness Hour.” I was ready to be happy. And to quote Prager, “happiness is a moral obligation.” Generally speaking, I was keeping my happiness obligation.

Southbound on the boulevard a tall, clean, Chassidic Jew stood at a busy intersection. Getting up the courage to step into the crosswalk, his blackness, his orthodoxy was most out of place. I wished I could have stopped for a photo shoot and an early Shabbat greeting.

I couldn’t help but being happy. I hoped that the clearly “marked” Jew was happy too.

I drove through another neighborhood or two when a most unusual sight caught my attention. There were three middle school aged boys riding on bikes… each carrying fishing poles. In a rural setting that may have been commonplace. Certainly not, however, in this upscale part of the suburbs. These Mayberry boys looked happy and carefree.

I was sorry not to have my camera to capture this Rockwell moment, but I was happy nonetheless.

Crossing through the shopping district a man wrapped in several coats, a hat and clutching a fully loaded shopping cart, appeared to be asleep on the bench at the bus stop. His rugged face and bent fingers showed the wear and tear of the elements. I watched him rock back and forth, moaning in discomfort every now and again.

Glad that I didn’t have my camera, I was unable to shake that image. If beauty lies in poverty, this homeless man was a man of beauty. I wondered if this man was morally obligated to be happy. At this moment, I could not help but be unhappy.

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