The world is endlessly fascinating, countlessly full of interesting people. Once at a party long ago I met a visitor to Guyana who turned out to be an expert on grasshoppers. He was a great enthusiast and I spent an hour talking to him about grasshoppers around the world and could easily have spent another day or a week on the subject. I did not know, until he told me, how full the world is of grasshoppers – green and gold and brown and black and red even, some inches large and some dot-like small, with a thousand sounds and songs and habits of their own. If you should cut down one of your great forest trees, he told me, in the branches of the crown, if you look carefully enough, you will find twenty or more separate species of grasshopper there. This visitor was going up the Essequibo for a few days and was looking forward to discovering at least a handful of completely new kinds of grasshopper to add to his collection. There was going to be a full moon and apparently there are some grasshoppers that are especially attracted by a combination of the moon and the sweet sap in the leaves of a certain kind of tree he hoped to find.
I immediately identified this man as one of life’s especially happy people. You can always tell them. A sort of serenity settles around their eyes. There is absolutely no bombast in them. They are filled with a pure enthusiasm which lights up their faces and makes them vibrant when they talk about what they love to do. There is no greed in them – no greed for power or position or money or public precedence – which is why in the rare category of the especially happy person no career man, no politician, no big businessman, nor anyone seeking the limelight, is ever likely to appear. The truly happy are those who find supreme contentment in working quietly away all their lives to add to the stock of human knowledge in their chosen, much-loved field. The satisfaction they get is in their own constantly renewed awareness of how their small successes daily increase mankind’s precious store of knowledge. Perhaps, as an added bonus, they also find pleasure in the informed praise of peers and colleagues in their field, but that is not the main thing. The main thing is self-satisfaction, in the best sense of the world.
You often see such happiness associated with those whose jobs are also what they love to do as pastime – a very rare combination when you think about it. I am not talking about the ambitious professional man or politician or businessman or even sportsman who drives himself all hours of the day, whose calling consumes him entirely. In that sort of man nothing is pastime, nothing is relaxation, nothing is simply pleasure, all is grist to the power or money mill. The happy man I am talking about knows what pastime is, knows what relaxation is, but it happens to be connected with what work he has also chosen to do to make his living.
Take the grasshopper expert who was visiting. He was in fact working in a very practical way, studying and reporting on the habits of grasshoppers all over the world, seeking to find how best to control them when they become a deadly pest to crops. That is his work and he is probably doing greater good in it than 99.9% of the men whom the public are inclined to call great or famous or successful in this world. But his work is also his great and abiding pleasure. Every addition he makes to the great catalogue he is compiling gives him the deepest kind of satisfaction. He is adding new knowledge for all time for all men. Should he have found a new species up the Essequibo it would be worth infinitely more to him than a bar of Potaro gold.
“When I am out of joint, from bad weather or a poor run of thoughts”, E B White, that perfect American essayist, once wrote, “I like to sit and think about Edward Howe Forbush.” The great ornithologist, Edward Howe Forbush, loved birds all his long life from when he was a boy of ten exploring for song sparrows in the woods and fields around Boston to his death at 71 when he had just a few pages left to finish his great summation of bird life, the magnificent 3-volume, illustrated book Birds of Massachusetts and Other New England States which has given, and will continue to give, infinite pleasure and instruction to the generations as they succeed each other. Reading about such people, or knowing them, lifts the heart even in the worst of times or moods.
We have such people in Guyana. We should honour and encourage them. I wish I knew more of them but I know a few and their dedication and enthusiasm and straightforward joy in what they are doing – only regretting that a day has only 24 hours in which to do it – is a marvellous pick-me-up when one is suffering from bad weather or a poor run of thoughts as E B White would say. They are among the truly productive among us and the most contented. The delight they take in their work and their lives radiates for miles and miles. Such people are possessed by a passion which is fierce, innocent and perfect – a passion which, better than any other passion, drives the human race to greater and greater achievement – the passion for adding to knowledge for the pure love of it.