The biggest mistake in our Declaration of Independence

Somewhere in my reading I remember that the biggest mistake in our Declaration of Independence, a true masterpiece in so many ways, is in the second line… the only line, I am embarrassed to say, that I have memorized: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The reason? Because true happiness is not, at its core, a primary source. It’s not a tree that keeps producing happiness, but the fruit of something greater. That greater tree is meaning. Happiness is a byproduct of living a meaningful life.

When I was a teenager, my family moved from Wagner, population 1600, to Rapid City, population 50,000. In Wagner I was the proud president of the freshman class…a class of 52 youth.   When I moved to Rapid City I went to Rapid City Central High School.  On the day I registered for classes, we were late, and I waited in a long line thinking I was registering for classes.  Instead I received a number…748.  Not knowing what was up, I asked what the number was for and someone rolled their eyes and said, “That’s your number.  When they call it, you go over to that line and that’s where you will register.   By the way, good luck. You’re going to need it.  You are the last kid in line for the sophomores.”

6 hours later my number was called.  Because I was last, I didn’t get any of the classes I wanted.  Every advanced class was taken.  Luckily, after talking to one of the science teachers, they made room for me in one of the many Chemistry classes, and after a week in remedial math they moved me up to Geometry.

That day has always stuck in my craw a bit.  Every time I think of that attendant rolling her eyes and pointing to the other line, my face gets red and a wave of embarrassment overcomes my soul.   I have never felt so left out and inhuman than that day.  I was no longer Brook McBride.  I was a number and not a good one at that.

As I think back at it, I could see how I could have easily bought into that idea.  The idea that I didn’t matter.  The idea that my life was void of meaning.  I could have easily bailed.  Walked out of that place and never came back.

But, I was blessed to have people around me that knew more.  That worked to pull meaning out of seemingly meaningless situations.  One of those people was my Chemistry teacher.  When Mom and I went to visit with her, she had every reason to close the door on us.  I mean whose fault was it that we didn’t know the system?   But instead, she worked with us.  She worked hard to erase the number and put meaning back into this system.   On Thanksgiving Eve, the churches of Rapid City had an ecumenical thanksgiving service downtown.  As I sat in the balcony and scanned the crowd, I wasn’t surprised to see my Chemistry teacher, sitting with her family, in the 3rd row.   She was a Christian.  Teaching for her wasn’t a job or a paycheck.  It was a vocation.  And because she worked so hard at bringing meaning into other people’s lives, I am confident that she has lived a “happy” life.  A life worth living.  A life she can be proud of.  A life I’m grateful for.

May each of us learn to seek the tree of life that bears much fruit.  The tree of meaning.  The tree that has within its DNA the love of Christ.

Your friend and pastor, thankful for the shade and fruits of that living tree, Brook

Tim Schaaf