Can I ask you something?
"Yes," he said.
What makes a man happy?
"Well..." He rolled his eyes around the hospital room. "This may not be the best setting for that question."
Yeah, you're right.
"On the other hand..." He took a deep breath. "On the other hand, here in this building, we must face the real issues. Some people will get better. Some will not. So it may be a good place to define what that word means."
"That's right. The things society tells us we must have to be happy-- a new this or that, a bigger house, a better job. I know the falsity of it. I have counseled many people who have all these things, and I can tell you they are not happy because of them."
"The number of marriages that have disintegrated when they have all the stuff in the world. The families who fought and argued all the time, when they had money and health. Having more does not keep you from wanting more. And if you always want more-- to be richer, more beautiful, more well known-- you are missing the bigger picture, and I can tell you from experience, happiness will never come."
You're not going to tell me to stop smelling the roses, are you?
He chuckled. "Roses would smell better than this place."
Suddenly, out in the hall, I heard an infant scream, followed by a quick "shhh!" presumably from its mother. The Reb heard it too.
"Now, that child," he said, "reminds me of something our sages taught. When a baby comes into the world, its hands are clenched, right? Like this?"
He made a fist.
"Why? Because a baby, not knowing any better, wants to grab everything, to say, 'The whole world is mine.'"
"But when an old person dies, how does he do so? With his hands open. Why? Because he has learned the lesson."
What lesson? I asked.
He stretched open his empty fingers.
"We can take nothing with us."
For a moment we both stared at his hand. It was trembling.
"Ach, you see this?" he said.
"I can't make it stop."
He dropped the other hand to his chest. I heard a cart being wheeled down the hall. He spoke so wisely, with such passion, that for a moment I'd forgotten where we were.
"Anyhow," he said, his voice trailing off.
I hated seeing him in that bed. I wanted him home, with the messy desk and the mismatched clothes. I forced a smile.
So, have we solved the secret of happiness?
"I believe so," he said.
Are you going to tell me?
"For what you have. For the love you receive. And for what God has given you."
He looked me in the eye. Then he sighed deeply.
-- "Have a Little Faith" by Mitch Albom, pages 100-102