Three is a bit of a magic number. From a narrative perspective, the rule of three is said to be more engaging and memorable to readers or listeners. In many cultural traditions, rites of passage often occur over three days and three nights. From a biblical perspective, three represents Divine wholeness or completeness as reflected in the Trinity and appears in numerous accounts such as Jonah (three days and three nights in the belly of the whale) or the Nativity’s Three Wise Men and their three gifts. But this post really isn’t about numerology. Though, it may point toward the Divine.
I had a day last week that revealed to me three distinct joys which are worth mentioning. My suspicion is that you, if you stop for a moment, might find three of your own from any day of the past week. Such is the possibility of finding Joy in the simple, mundane, or passing.
Joy at First
A trip to the woods inspired my first visit to Joyfulness. Walk with me through the following moment:
When I first watched the video, I responded with “Watching him reveals something elemental and profound. His lens on the world is the closest we can get to purity – it is an innocence and wonder that leads to truth and clarity.”
What is Joyful to you? Watching the clip above, I was astounded at the innocence and wonder of this little boy as he imagines gorillas and lions and antelopes moving about the trees and hidden places in this patch of forest. His Joyful wonder is truth and its purity strikes a chord of remembrance in us as we recall the castles-in-the-sky of our own youth. Contrast that with so many in our world who obsess with creating their own truth; a self-narrative that seeks to reconcile reality with personal preference, so often leading to a rejection of the pure, the innocent, and the true.
Through a child’s innocence we can see truth in the sheer purity of his imagination; not as a need to reconcile circumstances with self-image, but as a vehicle to transport us toward something beyond ourselves. Here, everything is possible and the wonder of it all is enough. The Joy is in the wondering and there is no need or compulsion to justify anything else.
A Different Joy
Later in the day, Joy reappeared in a most unexpected place: on the telephone, in my office, during a pretty low-key day of work. The call began at 2pm, was over at 2:28:51, and transported me to a most unexpected place. Did I win the lottery? Was I awarded a Nobel prize? No, I was simply and completely lost in the compelling connection of a conversation that was brief, fast-paced, and full of wonder in its own way.
You know the kind of conversation to which I refer. It flowed from start to finish with fullness and completeness, kindness and sincerity, all while providing unexpected insights. The chat was effortless which only magnified my sense of the magical. Curiously, I had only met this man briefly about a year ago and had exchanged no more than a few words at that time and none since. Until the other day.
What made it so special? The content was broad, we touched on elemental points of life’s stages, the glories and disappointments of business, and truths of human frailty and connectedness. And there it was: Truth. What was the truth that revealed itself? We shared in a few moments of interaction that required no posturing, comparing, expectation, or agenda. We lost ourselves in a banter that was profoundly deep, with no hint of small-talk, and seemed more choreographed dance than give and take discussion.
Perhaps I read more into it than it actually was. Maybe I was lost in my own fantasy world, imagining a conversational castle-in-the-sky. Perhaps. But I suspect something far more. An honest exchange that revealed one simple truth. We are all far more alike than we are different and, when we run across a kindred spirit in thought, deed, or worldview, something magical can happen. It was simple. It was unexpected. And it was Joyful.
Back to the Future Joy
Completing my Joy trifecta was a delightful conversation with Sally later that evening. However, the twist on this Joy was the journey I watched her travel. We were discussing the day, the video clip she took above, and the beauty of moments. We both had pretty good days and it was an entertaining review of events and observations.
One of Sally’s favorite books is Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. This classic coming of age story describes an unlikely friendship between a young boy and young girl and the magical kingdom in the woods they call Terabithia. A place where they rule as king and queen as their imaginations run free.
The story captured Sally’s imagination long ago and she loves to share it, particularly with our grandson, Cooper, who beautifully demonstrates Terathithian imagination in the video above. There is even a large pine tree in our neighborhood with a clear area within its branches that the two of them will crawl into and call Terabithia. Cooper doesn’t know the book but he knows the place.
Yes, the discussion itself was Joyful enough. There is magic anywhere the imagination can be set free. However, something else happened as we talked. Sally teared-up as she told me that her first exposure to the book was not by reading it but by listening to it being read. In the 5th grade, a young teacher named Mr. McCarter read the story to her class, triggering her imagination and a lifetime love of the book.
I always knew she loved the book but I didn’t realize her first experience of it. During our chat, she mentioned that Mr. McCarter was from Forest, Indiana, a tiny town in which my grandparents lived, as did I for a time. Digging a little bit, I discovered that Mr. McCarter recently retired after a long and successful teaching career – I happen to be connected to his younger brother on Facebook. Her memory of getting lost in that story remains pure, innocent, and Joyful. All of you educators out there, always remember the potential power of even the smallest things you do. There it is, truth again.
As I write this, it is 4am and I am surrounded by darkness. Some will awake today, happy for an election result they wanted. Some will get out of bed trying to shake off a sense of loss. Some will move fearfully through their day, avoiding other people and seeking safety from COVID-19. Some will barely notice the fear or disruption from the coronavirus. Some will deal with life and some with death. Some will walk through the mundane. Some will feel joy and some will feel something closer to despair, or, maybe just an ambivalence to more of the same. We all will live our day – in one way or the other.
Within every one of those moments are the seeds of Joy as well as the weeds of despair. I’m not talking about happiness, though that emotion and its cousin, sadness, also live there. Joy is transformative, innocent, truthful, and Divine. It lies beneath, behind, and within the big and the little. Joy is something near and far, in this moment, and lying across that moment long into the future. It is not fleeting, though its exuberant trail may seem elusive, but it is always waiting. Waiting for our embrace.
You see, Joy rests in gratitude. It weaves through awareness. And then it surprises us through Love – a Love that is bent on willing the good of the other. A Love that points to something outside of ourself. The three joys above are only connection points to some greater stream that is there whether we feel it at a particular moment or not. It is not so ephemeral as a human emotion that retreats with the difficulties of life. Joy is something far more. We are called to it, to live with it, to remember it. Even when it seems elusive.
Today, embrace the truth of your own Joy. Regardless. Whether you see it or not. Feel it or not. Hope for it or not. Joy waits patiently, seeking to be present in your life. Promising far more than the moment or an emotion.