Sam Absolves Your Guilt
Happiness, according to Dr. Shaw in Wally Lamb’s knockout of a novel She’s Come Undone, is something one builds out of “insight and good habits.” Dr. Shaw tells Dolores, the novel’s main character, that she needs to “orchestrate” happiness, and “work at it,” because “you don’t catch it as it hurls toward you like a football.”
Is he right? I’m not sure; I’d be a full-time happy person if I knew that. I’m tried to catch my share of footballs, fumbling most of them.
But what I do know is that I see plenty of happiness can come from what early Christians labeled as sinful. Sloth? I’d sleep till noon every day if I didn’t have to, you know, work. Gluttony? I probably gained five wonderful pounds on Thanksgiving Day, and I donated food to a pair of local food banks so that maybe others could do the same. Lust? Relationships, even healthy ones, founder without a little bit of lust. If there were an eighth deadly sin called the Sin of Liking Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, I’d be happily guilty of that one, too.
Were the seven deadly sins, and the tutelage to avoid them, a means to help us poor, fallible humans be happy? My religiously uneducated perspective says no; my cynical Generation X perspective says that Catholic leaders were trying to exert their power, to make people feel guilty and broken when they felt these natural human emotions and urges.
About the only good thing that I think has come from the idea of the seven deadly sins is some great literature. I was convinced to read Dante’s The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso by a guy for whom I felt a non-trivial amount of Lust. Though the guy is long-gone, I’m still happy I read the books. (see? Lust is good for something…) Dante carefully layers his hell, rating the sins by severity, almost to the point of absurdity (I like to think Dante had a little Generation X cynicism, too). I’m a little miffed that he didn’t include a ring of hell for Metermaids, Pushy Leasing Agents, and Mediocre Phlebotomists, but nobody’s perfect.
In the end, Dolores from the novel draws what will make her happy on an Etch-a-Sketch: a picture of a tall, heavy-set man with a friendly face and glasses, whom at that point in the novel she hasn’t yet met, but will eventually marry. We should all be so lucky. I say, let’s all have our unique routes to happiness, then, even if they involve a few pit stops at what others call sin; let’s revel in our human strengths and weaknesses–in moderation, of course–because what other choice do we have?