Find a Happy Place

By Allison Brennan


It’s Easter Sunday, but I wanted to do a bit more than simply wish everyone a lovely and safe holiday. 

I don’t want this to be a religious message, but considering the day I hope you’ll indulge me a little. I’m not seeking to convert anyone, only to share one point I think we can all agree on.

Jesus said in Matthew, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Sometimes, I think that if everyone followed that one dictum, the world would be a much happier, peaceful place.

I know, it’s a rather Pollyanna thought, and considering that I write rather dark crime fiction, it may surprise some people that I’m generally an optimist. (Picture the starfish Peach in Finding Nemo: “Find a happy place! Find a happy place!”)

I don’t think it’s surprising, however, that even in all its darkness, crime fiction is at its root optimistic. Heroes risking their lives and making sacrifices to save others, even if they’re not paid to do so. And because justice isn’t always served on earth, it’s cathartic to deliver justice in fiction. It’s the hope that stories give—that there are people who care enough to do the right thing, people willing to fight evil, people who show their love of humanity through their actions. People who love their neighbor.

The last two or three years, I’ve reflected on the similarities between Catholics and our Jewish brothers and sisters. It started while researching my Seven Deadly Sins series and reading Jewish fairy tales and folklore. It’s not that I had any issues with Judaism, it was more that since I was born and raised Catholic, I couldn’t relate. And I realized that for all the differences we have, we have far more in common than I knew or understood. The similarities between the traditional Seder meal and the Last Supper are the most obvious, but the foundation of Catholicism rises out of Judaism. I found I could relate. So when my kids wanted to learn more about Passover this year and celebrate it, I was all for it. (We did more of the learning this year; next year we have plans for a traditional Seder meal.)

I think that not only is it important for my kids to respect and appreciate different faiths, but it’s crucial in our world today to understand those who may not agree with us. I’m extremely opinionated about many things, and believe my views are correct (who doesn’t, right?) But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from or appreciate differing opinions. Again, perhaps a bit naïve, but it’s a philosophy that has helped me get through life. As Voltaire has been credited with saying, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

If I can teach my kids to love others, they’ll not only be happier people, but also more productive citizens. They’ll find that happy place.

I would love for people to share something positive and reflective today, to illustrate the maxim, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Maybe something you witnessed, or something you did, or something you read about. Toni sent me a link last month about the Japanese man who, after the tsunami, searched for his wife and mother. After finding them, he went back to search for others.

Or maybe a story closer to home. A simple act of love that showed you there is hope.

Have a blessed day.




16 thoughts on “Find a Happy Place

  1. Teribelle

    Hi. I am a blogger and am finally feeling like my blog is reaching some people. I like this article and want to include it in my blog so I am posting it via a permalink. Thanks.

  2. Teribelle

    The reason tht I linked it to the other article from a member of Murderati is that your articles always seem to express what I like to say and what I can agree with or see what it means. I appreciate that and the fact that you have welcomed me into the world of writing. And I think both of these articles are very helpful

  3. Paula Graves

    My mom is the kind of person who takes in strays. To this point, it's mostly been animals, but she's also taken a few stray people under her wing from time to time, just because they needed help.

    Most recently, there's a teenage girl and boy in our neighborhood who just lost their grandmother, who was their primary caregiver. They still live with their mom at the grandmother's house, but there's a reason their grandmother was raising them, and the kids are a little adrift at the moment.

    My mom's done several things to watch out for these kids, from buying a formal dress for the girl to taking the boy's dog to the vet when he got stung by a bee and his little muzzle swelled up, making it hard to breathe.

    We're not wealthy people, but my mom will give as much as she can to help people in need that she comes across. She inspires me to try to be more giving as well.

  4. Eika

    If I can ever be as kind as a child, I will be a happier person.

    They don't judge by skin color or ethnicity, except maybe to ask why someone looks different. Their only ideas of sexism involves cooties. And even the bullies tend to look out for each other in a pinch.

    Most unselfish act I've ever encountered remains from a halloween when I was a child. About ten kids were in line at a house for candy when she ran out, and a complete stranger a year older than me got on the porch to give his candy to those who didn't get any. I often wonder if he's working on the cure for cancer now.

  5. Allison Brennan

    Thanks Teribelle! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Paula, your mother is wonderful, and I don't have to to tell that! It's exactly these "small" but essential and big-hearted acts that give me the most hope.

    Eika, children are color-blind and blissfully innocent and pure of heart. Your young candy-giver most certainly "went places." Thanks so much for sharing!

    As for me, we're having our Easter Egg hunt early then off to church late (one nice thing about Catholic Mass is that there are lots of times to choose from!) We'll then play games and have dinner and hopefully, everyone will find a happy place and put aside perceived slights. (And with five kids, there is a LOT of bickering on a daily basis!!)

  6. Fran

    One of the things I enjoy about being pagan is the ability to take the good, loving parts of all religions and incorporate them into my own beliefs. There's a lot of overlap, if you look at things on a global level, and it would be grand and glorious if people would concentrate on the similarities, not the differences.

    Paula, your mom sounds a lot like mine. I'd trail home with all manner of strays (animal and human), and she'd smile and take care of them.

    There are acts of kindness all around, if you watch for them. There's a guy who stands on one of the corners here in town and hollers "Mornin', mornin', mornin'" to everyone who passes, and he grins at those of us on the bus like we're the best thing he's seen ever. I miss him when he's not on his corner.

    Another guy has a rainbow colored sign that says simply "SMILE". And he'll grin at you and tease you until you do.

    Happy Easter, to all who celebrate it! A friend of mine has a four-year-old daughter who has decided that today she's dressing up as the Easter Fairy, complete with wings, and I think that's absolutely perfect!

  7. Barbie

    Allison, I love what you said here. I think tolerance and understanding, is, beyond all, the most important thing.

    Have a Happy Easter, guys ♥

  8. David Corbett

    My girlfriend was talking about this very concept yesterday — what it means to love yourself, and how you can't love others until you do.

    She always got that in the abstract, but the tangible reality of loving oneself, and the inextricable link to loving others, never really gelled for her — until she started working on a film about a transgender couple getting married here in San Francisco.

    The male member of the couple, Michael (who grew up female in Central Ohio, where I grew up), felt so hated by her classmates she ate her lunch locked in a cubicle in the restroom every day of middle school. Like many gay and bi and transgender kids, she internalized the hatred directed at her, and it almost destroyed her. (My older brother was gay, and I watched this firsthand in my own family.) Only by coming to grips with a new understanding of who she was — learning to love herself — was she able to rise above the hatred that had her on the brink of suicide. Obviously, her self-recognition went deeper than most, all the way down to gender identity, but I think the lesson's universal.

    Perhaps children begin as open, loving beings, and only socialization destroys that. But the truth remains, by the time most kids are self-aware, they've already inherited a great deal of self-loathing and shame, guilt and fear.

    Easter for me symbolizes the rising from that tomb into a new light, a light of self-acceptance and self love, through which our compassion for others blossoms — for we can see more clearly now the very same tombs and prisons they've been condemned to. Or worse, put themselves in.

    We get it, because we see it in ourselves. We see the inherently fallible nature of human life, and understand the fearful vanity in judgment. We also know how liberated we became through an honest self-love. Understanding our faults and limitations but also recognizing that we're not lesser for them, just us. We're not perfect, but we're not contemptible either. Something about that core recognition turns a key in our hearts that changes things forever, if we let it.

    I think loving others as one loves oneself also recognizes that true connection with another person requires real vulnerability, and there's no way to guarantee how truly exposing yourself to another will go. You can't risk that kind of nakedness without the kind of confidence that comes from an honest compassion for yourself. But without that vulnerability, there's a bit of artifice in one's connections, a self-protective act, a performance. And sooner or later, every actor begins to feel a little contempt for the audience that falls to easily for the shtick.

    Or, to follow up on our poetry peregrinations the past few days, we can see the thorny truth in Yeats' "Easter 1916," and say that on this day among all days: A terrible beauty is born. (He was writing about the Irish rebellion, but like most symbols, this one serves many purposes.) The beauty of the resurrection is terrible because it refuses to abide by the thousands of small corrupting denials and deceptions by which we conduct our daily lives. It takes courage to love like that, to be free like that, to be honest like that. To live, and not just keeping hiding in the restroom cubicle, the loveless marriage, the dead-end job — the tomb.

  9. Reine

    Happy Easter, Allison. Happy Pesach. It's all about hope.

    There is a paratransit van driver who is especially kind. There is a place where I shop that is in the middle of a large mall. There are only two drop-off places in the mall designated by the paratransit department. The drivers are not allowed to deliver riders to any other place in the mall. It's a very dangerous wheelchair ride across a huge – and very busy – parking lot, from either stop, to the store where I shop and Starbucks. My kind driver will ignore the rule to let me off the van in a safe place. When I told him I didn't want him to get into trouble over doing that he said, "My conscience is more important to me than the fear of a supervisor catching me doing the right thing."

  10. JT Ellison

    Happy Easter to everyone! A beautiful and important post today – I'm amazed at how little tolerance there is out there lately, much less true selflessness. Today is definitely more than jellybeans and colored eggs.

  11. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Closer to home…I learn about the sanctity of life more by listening to my children every day than I ever did by pursuing my own interests. My ten year old boy constantly surprises me with his generous thoughts and actions towards people and animals. Listening to him speak is like studying the Talmud.

  12. Alice Anderson

    We went to visit my nephews this weekend and celebrate nephew #2's second birthday. Another little girl, who is almost two, was on the swing set and my nephew decided to swing in the swing next to her. Well, she's really little and couldn't get the swing moving. So without any prodding from anyone else, my nephew gets out of his swing and goes over and starts pushing her.

    It was the sweetest, most heart-melting moment I've seen in a long while. And I certainly think it fits with the "love thy neighbor" theme you're looking for.

  13. Allison Brennan

    Thank you everyone for sharing your stories! … it was a long, long day in the Brennan house and for some reason my feet are sore :/

    Stephen, my 10 year old is also kind and sweet with animals. We have two chickens and my son is responsible for letting them out of their coup into their pen in the morning, and putting them back before dark, making sure they have fresh water. He hugs them before putting them back (well, he's trying to prove to us that he can take care of a dog … ) but these birdbrain chickens will run from anyone but Luke. They stop and let him pick them up whenever he wants. I think animals have a sense of who they can trust, and they also sense kindness of souls.

  14. pari noskin taichert

    A lovely post. As one of your Jewish readers, I'd urge you to go to a traditional Seder or find a friend who is Jewish and invite yourself/family (you can come to NM!). This is because there's a sense of tradition and connectedness that is really important to the holiday. When I say the prayer over the wine, I know that for thousands of years other Jewish people have used the exact same words in the same context . . . and that at the moment I do it, I'm also connected to every Jewish person celebrating Seder that night. It's very powerful and not something academic at all <g>.

    As to hope, so many things come to mind. But here's a small one: I've been having an extremely hard time emotionally for the last four months. After the Seder, my older daughter spontaneously began cleaning dishes — she worked really hard. When I thanked her for it, she said, "I've been wanting to contribute more, Mom. To help you more and this is one way I can do it."

    Tiny, but very powerful to me.

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