“I’ve learned that happiness is something like unhappiness: it may strike any time, without warning.”
– Elmer C. Albatross, Baccano!
Episode 14, “Graham Specter’s Love and Peace”
Elmer is a relatively minor character in this little masterpiece of an anime that is full unto overflowing with lead characters. Yet his presence is as strong as any other, in his own way, and his wisdom is profound. Others pursue forbidden secrets, scientific knowledge, or power over their fellow beings, but Elmer’s is the wisdom of happiness. It is a humble piece of wisdom, often overlooked, and yet the potency of it cannot be overstated.
Imagine, if you will, a collection of people who have gained immortality. A cause for celebration, most would agree. But, when you will live forever, what is it that you will live for? One of them almost immediately succumbs to his base desires, and his ego. Another conducts an unending series of experiments with people’s lives, all to gain knowledge. Yet another spends his days tormenting one who trusted him entirely. And still another is burdened with the weight of the world, and of loss, walking the length of eternity almost entirely alone.
Among all of these and more, only one understands that life, mortal or immortal, is only worth living when you can find some happiness here and there.
That is why he devotes himself to bringing smiles to those around him. For all the accomplishments that his fellow immortals achieve, they lead some very long and depressing lives. But one of them can hardly ever be found without a smile on his face, and he brings a little happiness back into their exceedingly dreary world. And that is the secret, the real secret.
What everybody needs in life, regardless of any circumstance, is happiness.
Not just mere, fleeting, momentary pleasure. Not just some good times. Not even just smiles, for even smiles can become false and filled with sorrow. No, real, lasting, genuine happiness.
Some say that such happiness begins and ends within oneself, independent of one’s surroundings. Some say that you can’t be happy without having someone to share it with. Some say that happiness is found in accepting what can’t be changed, and some say it’s the other way around. Some say there is no joy with hope, and that is certainly true.
I say it’s all of that and more.
But most of all, I say happiness is natural. It is as natural as anger, sadness, fear, and everything else. It begins, and it may end, but it happens without being forced, and it is often surprising.
The definition of a surprise is something that happens without warning.
Some surprises are terrible, and shatter our happiness. Others are good, and bring unexpected happiness into dark and dreary lives. That happens often when one least expects it, when one has already given up. But it still happens. And it can still happen, no matter how sad and empty our lives have become. After all, an empty life has lots of room for something good to come into.
So I suppose what I really want to say, what this quote really means to me, is that we should never give up on being happy. It may not be in the way we envisioned, but it can happen. We may not know when it will be, but that just means that it can happen at any time. Try not to give up entirely, ok?
So, in Elmer’s words… go on, give us a smile. 🙂