In his quest for meaning and wisdom, contentment even, King Solomon comes to this conclusion: “What I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.”
Enjoyment in the toil – this is our lot.
The song says, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” He tries and tries and tries, but still the singer can’t get none. I feel that.
The New York Times is convincing me that soon I will have to vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and I hear a weird, new sense of unease tapping at my window.
A daily diet of social media vitriol paired with the Nightly News is disquieting, I can’t lie.
More people than ever take anti-anxiety meds, divorce and depression and cutting are at an all-time high, and I can’t get no satisfaction.
King Solomon himself even recants a bit, later saying, “[My] soul is not satisfied with life’s good things.” What is happening, Solomon? You traitor! You just said our lot is to find enjoyment in the few days we have here, so what are we doing wrong?
I must read this text again, more carefully this time, to find what I am missing.
Ah, there it is.
The Teacher reminds me to find enjoyment in the toil, the work God has given to me, my work under the sun – the diaper changing, the reading, the writing, the milking, the vacuuming, the care of the young, the care of the old, the cooking, the office work, the planting and the harvesting – the toil of each of us in our day.
Find satisfaction here. Search for it like a lost pearl. This is the secret.
The poet Jack Gilbert makes some sense of this idea of choosing satisfaction in the midst of the struggle –
“The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.”
I cannot say it any better. I will join the women of Bombay and stubbornly choose gladness.
I look deep into the baby’s eyes and ask him what he thinks. He thinks we should swing a little higher today, so we do. The beauty of the sun on his face as he swings overwhelms the heat of the furnace, and we laugh and laugh.
I will risk delight.