Every now and then a brief encounter can make a lasting impact. A dear friend turned 80 a couple weeks ago. As friends and family gathered to celebrate I watched as my friend made his way from person to person, taking the time to greet and enjoy time with each one. In a moment of stillness we sat together and he asked if he could share a story from earlier in the week. He said he’s been having some mobility issues recently and the doctor recommended he get a walker to use. The particular type of walker he needed is several hundred dollars so his wife called around to area thrift shops to see if they could find one used. A shop said they had one, so they rushed over. Unfortunately it wasn’t what he needed. A young woman in the store overheard them and asked if she might help, she knew someone who had what he needed. She made a call and 15 minutes later they met a woman whose husband and had recently died and she still had his walker. It was exactly the thing my friend needed. He asked how much he could pay for it and the woman said “nothing,” that it would make her husband and her happy knowing he could use it. His eyes lit with joy my friend said, “Isn’t that just wonderful? With all that’s happening in the world, it’s nice to be reminded that there’s a lot of good.”
In her book This Here Flesh, Cole Arthur Riley shares a touching story of joy. On one side of a velvet curtain clumsy preteens bobbed and swayed to the music. On the other, anxious parents huddled in clusters, containing all the nerves they’d wished away from their children hours before. Riley’s father slid in and out of groups before settling at a table far enough to rest but close enough to still feel the bass on the other side. A half an hour before the dance was over he was surprised when he looked up and saw his daughter emerging from the curtain—glistening over to him. He was sitting there holding his breath and smiling, as if to say, Don’t worry about me. I’m doing okay. But she grabbed his hand and pulled with a force that seemed strange for an 11 year old. Come dance with me, she said. I want to show you to everyone. And the momentum of her joy collided with his chest at such a rate that the breath he’d been carrying was knocked right out of him. I don’t remember any of the people she introduced me to, but I remember her not being embarrassed of me.
Joy is not really about scripted, expected or store-bought things. It is about the impromptu realm of deep connection, the willingness to be vulnerable, to be present with sorrow, to be honest, to be surprised. It’s sharing in the unpredicted, rather than holding back. It’s also about the moments when, despite all, we feel met.
There are sparks of joy all around. Let us find time in the coming weeks may we find to reflect on the moments of each day and identify when we have shared and when we have welcomed life’s joys. And may our intention this holiday season be a renewed commitment to being joy-bearers.