This year we gave ourselves an early Christmas present: a new puppy. December was turning out to be, for various reasons, a difficult month for both of us, and we decided we could use some happy energy. Boy, did we get it.
Rufus exploded into our lives as the personification (animalification?) of energy. Nothing deterred him. The pursuit of a toy sent him smashing into walls. Curiosity about the edge of the bed or the top of the stairs ended up in a legs-flailing tumble. Everything was fascinating, even things that fell on him or made loud noises. He just kept coming back for more. A toy that was forgotten for a few minutes was rediscovered with a near-ecstatic excitement. My husband and I sat watching all this with dumb smiles on our faces, and eventually I realized what I was seeing.
Joy. Exuberant, unmitigated, un-self-conscious joy. And it was contagious. In the evenings we neglected our chores, left the TV off and put down our tablets to simply sit on the concrete floor and have this furry, double-jointed force of nature bounce between us.
Where, I wondered, can we find this kind of joy in the human world? I don’t think it’s a word we use often. We enjoy a lot of things, and once in a while we attend a joyous occasion, but plain old joy seems a little too corny. The word peppers our Christmas carols, but it usually seems as abstract a concept as figgy pudding. Joy to the world? How is that even possible given the horrible news we are faced with each day?
And yet, in my travels I have seen joy on the faces of people living in abject poverty. I’ve read stories of people whose joy is so insuppressible that it sustains them through unimaginable situations. Pure joy is certainly not limited to the animal world. And if this is true, why does it seem to be lacking for the majority of us living in prosperity with plenty of food, shelter and gadgets of every kind? How dare we not exhibit joy each and every day?
One of my favorite quotes comes from a character in the play “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder. Revisiting her past after an untimely death, Emily is disturbed by the matter-of-fact way that her family goes about its daily life. She pleads, “But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.”
To that I would add: Let’s look at one another in joy. If the happiness of a simple puppy is so infectious, what kind of a chain reaction might we see if we humans also wore our joy on our sleeves?
Perhaps this is utopian thinking. Joy is obscured daily by a million difficulties, from the mundane to the catastrophic. But it has to still be there, and as the new year begins, I’m pledging to seek it out more often. I hope you’ll join me.
Find it in your faith. Find it in a walk in the park. Find it in the face of a loved one. Heck — show off a little and find it in the face of an enemy, or in the face of cancer, or in the face of natural disaster. What’s the harm in looking?
Because here’s the other thing I’ve noticed about Rufus: After a day of bounding from one joy to another, he sleeps really well at night.
Peter Carlson lives in Minneapolis.