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The Greatest Happiness

Victor Hugo wrote that "life's greatest happiness is to be loved." He was absolutely right.

November 01, 2007  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


The other day I stopped by one of those coffee shop/bookstore places on the way to do an interview. The long flight and four-hour drive the day before had left my knees and back stiff and sore.

Looking around the bookstore I noticed there were hundreds of books on how to be happy. I thought about how the great psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that we were a whole species of gripers.

I have to admit that I was griping that morning. I tried a little French roast, and it sort of spoiled an otherwise happy experience. And the rental car was OK, but the seats weren't the most comfortable.

My gripes would soon disappear.

Carrie, the wife of the officer I came to interview, met me at the door and told me that her husband Mike needed to go to physical therapy by 10:30.

Mike needs therapy because he was shot in the head in 2004, and suffered massive injuries. In the interview, he described how the shooting went down. He described how it felt to come out of a coma and go through uncounted surgeries and how he found such joy as little things he used to be able to do began coming back to him. For example, he described how happy it made him to be able to feed himself.

Three years after the shooting, Mike is still in pain. But he says he welcomes it as proof he isn't paralyzed.

Mike used to be a 187-pound jock; now he has a withered right arm and can barely walk. He says it was a good thing the bullet hit him and not someone who couldn't have survived it. Mike is so determined to be strong again that he lifts weights three times a week to supplement his physical therapy.

Yeah, Mike is strong. But Carrie is even stronger. Mike told me the greatest thing in his life is his wife, who has given up so much for him; his eyes fill with tears. At that point, my eyes watered as well. Allergies.

Next I interviewed Carrie, who described the horror of having the love of her life shot, of being told he wouldn't survive and would be a vegetable even if he did. She didn't believe it and talked to him constantly when he was in a coma and, when he came out of it, she began moving his limbs so he could walk someday. She was told he would be a quad. But Mike constantly complained of the pain. And she knew that where there is pain there is hope.

During our conversation, Carrie talked of all the officers who helped her keep her family together as they were moved from specialty hospital to specialty hospital. The officers always made sure there was someone there; one even made Carrie eat when she refused to leave her wounded warrior's side.

Mike sat to my left, silently weeping as his wife told of her incredible struggle to get everyone to believe in Mike and get him walking and talking, and all I heard in her voice was her pride in him and love for him.

Throughout the interview they joked and laughed, they laughed a lot...they are happy. And later, as I was packing up, I accidentally walked in on these two heroes holding each other, her head was on his shoulder; they smiled at me, a little embarrassed, but they didn't let go.

I turned away a little embarrassed myself, but I noticed my knees and back didn't hurt so bad. My life was a wonder of family and friends, and I was happy, too. Except my allergies were really getting to my eyes right about then.


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