Walter and his Cat, circa 1995

Note: I originally wrote this on Christmas Eve in 2008. I was reminded of it today on the plane, when I witnessed a man break down and tell the woman next to him just how thankful he was for her to be in his life. The indication I got was that they are friends and have been for many years, and that she has been a huge supporter of his. He was overcome with emotion and didn't care that he was on a plane -- he HAD to let this woman know how he felt, and he was joyful. 

I've been particularly tuned in to other peoples' joy lately. I watched a woman savor a warm cup of hot cocoa at Starbucks a few weeks ago, pausing and closing her eyes as she was struck with just how satisfying it was. I saw a man playing with his dog in the park near our studio, rolling around in the grass as the dog wrestled with and pinned him. 

Joy is one of the most beautiful things we experience as people, and what makes it so special is that when we experience it, we also allow everyone around us to experience the joy of seeing someone experience joy. 

So find some joy. 

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This picture from flickr of Walter and his cat is one of the sweetest things I've ever seen:

Now, some people may want to laugh at Walter. He did, after all, load his cat up in a vehicle to bring it to a photography studio to be photographed with him. And sure, Walter's look might invoke a few jabs and snarky comments... But I find him endearing. And I think that whoever would laugh at Walter is secretly sad that they won't ever know the happiness this man has with his cat. I think that we should all strive for this level of satisfaction with our own lives... We should quit being concerned with the outside-in nature of society's lens on our actions and our attitudes and our clothing and our loves and just live our lives how we want to live them and love the things we love with abandon.

And that's the spirit in which I share this picture of Walter. And his cat, who doesn't look as happy as Walter, and is probably just doing this to make Walter happy. And she succeeded, because Walter IS happy.

It reminds me of a moment in 1994, when I was a Junior in High School working at the mall. I worked for a "market research firm," which is basically a company that pays people to lie about which movies they've seen in the past year and spend 5 minutes talking about their preferences in menthol cigarettes. It was the spring, and the pet store near our station in the mall was selling kittens. Being a 17 year old male who was too cool to care about much of anything, I never gave a crap about people who frequented the pet store - in fact, the majority of my shifts were spent making fun of them.

But one day, I looked over at the pet store to see a couple exiting. The man wore a bad comb-over and thick glasses, and he was pushing the woman in a wheelchair. She was severely overweight, and was wearing a mu-mu and her feet were very swollen. They were dressed shabbily and, on any other day of my life after seeing these two, I would have started into a stream of insults and jokes that would have had my co-workers dying of laughter. But no more than a second after spying them, I saw that the woman was holding near her chest a small kitten.

The kitten was resting in her elbow and nestled in her neck, and she was lightly stroking it on the back of its head. The kitten seemed happy. And the look on this woman's face is one that I will never - NEVER - forget.

She looked like she had just solved every problem she'd ever had in her life and had found a friend that would never judge her and would always love her. She was, at that moment, the happiest person I had ever seen in my entire life. It was a moment of joy that this woman was experiencing - not just happiness, the way we talk about being happy the Falcons won or that we are leaving for vacation in Jamaica in a few days or even that we got what we wanted for Christmas... This was JOY. Pure. Unadulterated. Uncontainable.

The real thing.

I began crying. Right there in the middle of the mall, in front his coworkers and all the cute girls and all the hip boys wandering around, this seventeen year old, callous, smart-alec jerk of a kid began crying. I couldn't contain myself. I just began sobbing at how tender and sweet that moment was. It struck a chord deep within me, and the image of that moment burned itself into my mind and has been with me since. It took me years to figure out what it was about that moment that struck me so hard, and when I finally realized the answer, my life changed. Not fundamentally... Maybe even only slightly. But it changed.

I realized that, at that moment, that woman was happier than I'd ever been or might ever be in my life. She'd found something that gave her the sort of all-encompassing joy that brings you out of the house when you're incapable of walking just to receive it, and when you do, you couldn't give a shit less about the people around you and what they think of it. She was an honest sort of happy, the kind which forces any amount of despair, no matter how little, from you so that you can just concentrate on what really matters. I got made fun of for the rest of the time I was at that job, and while I was embarrassed that I'd done it, I wasn't sorry and I wouldn't have traded that moment for anything (and still won't). It still brings tears to my eyes... Right now, in fact.

I hope YOU are happy.

I hope that among the horrible crap that 2008 (and other years) has brought you that you can find at least one thing in your life that you can just grab and hold and smile about every time you think of it. I hope that you find joy in moments, if not in life as a whole. And if you aren't there - if everything's miserable and you can't find small victories each day, please do try to find one. Maybe your cat. Maybe pick up a pencil and doodle something that will make you giggle. Maybe write a blog entry on the net about the silliest thing you've ever seen.

Maybe this picture of Walter and his cat.

Who knows. I just hope you find joy where you can. And when you find it, I hope you hold on to it. Cherish it in your heart and keep it deep within you, like a coal which warms you from deep within. Never let that ember burn out. Always stoke it and give it plenty of air to breathe. Hold on to your joy. Never let it go, because there are plenty of forces in this world which would be glad to take it from you.