I studied the newspaper picture of Mark. It had captured him in the middle of a story, stooped, arms wide as if to seize the words out of the air. His eyes were wide with the excitement of his yarn, and there was a broad smile tucked into his white beard.
Apropos to nothing, it popped into my mind: “This is what joy looks like.” As usual, I didn’t have time to read the full article, but I folded the paper and put it away to read later, and I went to work.
On the drive there, I really pondered ‘joy’. I mean, I’m happy enough. I’ve got more blessings than I have fingers and toes to count them on. I count myself as pretty fortunate. But I guess that I don’t know a lot about joy.
I tried to think of everywhere that I’d seen joy. I caught a brief glimpse of joy when Jude shot past me on a bike, a streak of red spandex that moved faster than I was driving.
I thought of the bright yellow Beetle sitting in a neighbor’s yard. She deals with some pretty serious issues but in the middle of it, she bought herself a bright yellow Volkswagon bug to drive. That car is outward manifestation of her joyful nature.
A client in a wheel chair rocker for the first time was so amazed by the sensation that he laughed out loud with the joy of it and leaned forward to hug my neck.
Little William has a great joyous laugh that seems to come from his very toes. He laughs often, about leaves or cats or tickles or just about anything really.
I am surrounded by people who seem to understand joy. I have begun to feel as if I am missing something.
I belong to a story teller’s guild. We are loosely focused on telling the stories of the history of our area. Mark Davis was the perfect leader. His family’s roots extend back to the very beginnings of this county. He’s quite interested in tracing the history of his family. Combine that interest with a knack for storytelling and you’ve got someone who can tell a story about his eighth great-grandfather and make it sound as if he’d just finished lunch with him just a few minutes before meeting up with the guild. Dress him up in buckskins and the transformation is completeMark becomes that ancestor before your very eyes.
I contrast his presentation with my own self conscious presentation. I was unhappy with it. Afterwards, I made a careful list of all the things that I’d done wrong, committed to do it better next time. Mark did his presentation with joy. I did mine with grim determination. Why?
I ponder Jude. Since he was a pretty heavy smoker in his younger days, he probably didn’t even guess that long distance bicycling was a retirement option. What does my future hold? I don’t knowit just seems like I stopped thinking too far ahead. When did that happen?
I think of my neighbor, choosing her bright yellow car, choosing joy in the midst of her own problems and realize that I’ve been making sensible practical choices for a long time. Now there’s a time to be sensible and practical, I know, but isn’t that why we are practical? To give us the freedom to be impractical from time to time?
I haven’t really given myself over to new experiences like my client, or laughed long and hard like little William. I realize that I have been surrounded by teachers, but have been a woefully inattentive student, being all too caught up in the busy-ness of life.
A week later, I saw a camera and tripod offered on line. Mark had just been showing his new camera to Ron, who teaches photography classes. I had listened to the two of them talking, as I thought to myself, “Somedaysomeday I will get a nice camera and take lessons” I studied the camera offered on line and spontaneously decided that ‘someday’ had suddenly become ‘today’. I bought it.
That night, William and I took a walk. I took pictures with my new camera, practicing some basic skills. William ran along ahead to see the fountain or to push the button that activates the train in the window display. His great laugh echoed up the empty streets, and I laughed too, taking pictures in the autumn dusk. As I played with the zoom on my camera, I became aware of an awful lot of beautiful little details in our town.
I will take photography classes and I will give myself over to the new experience. I will allow myself to laugh freely at my mistakes as I learn a new skill. I find myself looking ahead. Our family will be marking a lot of milestones in the next year and I am excited at the thought of being able to properly photograph them. Buying a new camera may not be the most practical choice I’ve ever made but for the first time in a long time, I chose joy.
It shocks me a little at how quickly that joy took root. It grows at a fantastic speed, tiny tendrils of growth reaching and stretching within, as if trying to make up for the time I’ve lost.