I noticed something the other morning. I had joined one of those groups that track high school yearbooks and class members, something I ordinarily wouldn’t do. Still, after more than half a century, I got curious to see if any of my classmates were connected to this particular software. There was a copy of our yearbook online, so I spent an hour or so meandering through the pages, recognizing names but not faces and faces but not names. I checked up on several former classmates and then forgot the whole thing.
This week I got an email from the group saying someone had left me a note! Who on earth? It turns out it was the son of a dear friend, the woman who introduced me to the Episcopal Church. The son was a couple of classes ahead of me in school. Still, since I visited their house in DC for several weeks each year, I got a crush on this guy (I also had a crush on another summer with his brother). Of all the people I had gone to school with, this fellow was probably the last one I expected to hear from. Still, after reading his note, I noticed I had a feeling of something I hadn’t felt in quite a while: joy. Heck, he’s been married since forever, so it wasn’t an offer to rekindle an old relationship, just a “hi, how are you?” kind of thing. Still, it gave me great pleasure to hear from him.
It made me think that the feeling of joy was something I hadn’t felt in quite some time. I don’t consider my life as being miserable, or portraying a down-in-the-dumps appearance to people I interact with. I like living in my trailer with my cats, doing what I like when I like, staying home most of the time without wanting to go out anywhere that I don’t have to go. I love finishing what I have to do when I go out so I can dash back home and relax. I enjoy talking to a few friends by Facebook, telephone, or text message, but I don’t need to be in contact with a lot of people. I’m satisfied with life, so imagine my surprise at feeling happy that someone I hadn’t heard from (and wasn’t particularly close to friend-wise) all these years later?
It then occurred to me that perhaps I had been overlooking little things that have given me even small bits of joy. Walking out of my house early in the morning to be greeted with fresh air and a welcoming cat who is waiting for his breakfast – now that I think of it, that’s a joy to me, especially since the temperature will be over 100 degrees later in the morning. I can now and then get a scent of rain, even if we don’t get any (it evaporates before it hits the ground). Watching the rain and sitting in my living room enjoying a thunderstorm is immensely pleasurable, since I am indoors, dry, and have at least two of the three cats hanging around. A new book, new knitting pattern or project, finding ways to solve problems that require new skills, all give me a feeling of satisfaction and, yes, joy. I had just been overlooking them.
Proverbs is one book of the Bible that has something for just about every occasion. In looking up the word “joy,” I found, “A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken. The mind of one who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast” (15:13-15).
It’s hard to have a glad heart these days, it seems. It’s a little easier if one ignores the news media, but somehow it’s the way we keep in touch with the world and what is going on everywhere else, other than our back yard or even our street. Lots of pictures of cute kittens (and puppies and other baby animals) help, and, for many, it’s the only reason to get on social media at all. Somehow baby animals (or even baby humans) lighten the mood and bring smiles even when the heart is heavy. They are innocent, do cute things, and aren’t trying to convince us of anything. They are just themselves, and we are happier for having seen them. Pictures of beautiful places help take us away from our mundane lives, and occasionally we vow to visit those places “when all this is over.” Then we wonder, will it ever be totally over?
I have an online friend who is a craftsperson specializing in stamping and papercrafts. Today someone had sent her a bunch of stamps that she no longer needed. The joy of the online friend receiving the package and seeing what was in it was palpable. It was good to see the pleasure something like that will bring, even in unsettled times.
There are a lot more verses about joy in the Bible, and it can be a joyful experience just to look for them. Psalm 30:5 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” We sometimes forget that, even though it is a reasonably familiar verse. Still, it deserves attention, especially in dark times like these. It makes me think that I can help bring joy to someone else with a simple gesture like smiling (they can see the skin around my eyes crinkle over the edge of my mask), using pleasantries like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” in daily conversations (even with rude people), or crafting a gift or a card for a friend who lives down the street or even across the country.
Take the gift of joy wherever you can find it, and then pass it on to someone else. Joy shared is joy doubled, and that’s not a bad thing these days.
*Quotations of scripture come from the New Revised Standard Version, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Image: Joy comes in the morning, Author Baphelile Sambo (1989). “A visitation to a local orphanage during Mandela Day, the smile on the little boys face shows that Happiness is a choice.” Found at Wikimedia Commons.