My friend, Kim, shared this story with me recently:
When I was younger, I attended Catholic masses. I always especially enjoyed the part of the service in which members of the congregation were invited to offer their prayers for joint supplication – those who felt so moved, would speak their prayers aloud, in order to then be supported in their prayers by the congregation.
This particular Sunday, as was the case most weeks, a group of mentally disabled adults had been brought in to attend the service. I always especially enjoyed hearing their prayers, as they were always so honest and heartfelt and exuberant.
They’d say things like, “I’m grateful I got to go to Valley River [a local shopping mall] yesterday and the sun was shining and I took the bus and I bought a red T-shirt! Let us pray to the Lord.” The congregation then replied with its rote response, “Lord hear our prayer.”
This particular Sunday, though, was different. When it came time for the joint supplications, only one of their group spoke up, in a much more formal and rehearsed manner, saying simply, “For a private intention, let us pray to the Lord.” The congregation replied, “Lord hear our prayer.”
From that day forward, there were no more spontaneous expressions of gratitude for the sunshine or red T-shirts. If verbalized at all, the prayer was simply for “a private intention.”
Obviously, someone had spoken to this group of parishioners, and told them a more “correct” way to offer their prayers. Perhaps it was done in the name of expediency. Perhaps this instruction was offered by the priest or someone else from the church. Or maybe it came from their own caregiver, the guy that drove them back and forth from their group home every week and had to sit through the service with them.
Granted, their childlike accounts and petitions could get lengthy. But, to me, it also felt like such a gift, to get to listen to their unfiltered expressions of gratitude and faith. I always felt renewed by their sheer joy of being alive!
It saddened me to see that level of honesty and aliveness being shut down in the name of….”getting on with things.”
The same morning she shared that story, I’d had this delightful experience:
I’d been walking through the lobby of our local YMCA, just about to greet Rachael, who was standing behind the front counter. Just then, from the opposite direction, a little girl, about three or four, came skipping past the counter. With a huge smile and waving arms, she shouted, “Hi Rachael!!” as she continued bouncing her way to her destination.
Infused with her zeal, I immediately began skipping my way through the lobby, waving and calling “Hi Rachael!” Skipping along and waving her arms back at me, Rachael responded, “Hi Nancy!”
This little vignette, which happened in less than 10 seconds, has really stuck with me. Not only did it change Rachael’s and my morning, it also served to amuse and uplift a number of bystanders in that moment. And like ripples in a pond, I’m sure its energetic effects continued to expand and touch many others as well.
I know I continued to feel a heightened sense of joy for several hours. I remember being in the grocery store, and feeling nearly overcome with love for all us silly human beings, scurrying around like little ants, playing out our personal (and larger global) dramas. And yet I sensed in each person that same sort of childlike essence I’d experienced at the Y, an inherent desire to just simply….be happy.
“Unless ye become as little children….
Kim’s story and my experience at the Y have been wonderful touchstones for me in these past couple weeks. There are times I feel overwhelmed with the “heaviness” of life – all the political dramas and uncertainties, illnesses and traumas of so many people I know, the suffering of so many people I don’t know, not to mention just trying to deal with never-ending to-do lists, finicky internet connections and too much junk mail.
So it helps to remember that it’s not what happens, it’s how I respond to it that determines my state of mind. I can choose to be grateful for the sunshine and red T-shirt or the latest challenge on my plate. I can choose to metaphorically skip my way through whatever presents itself with joy and gratitude, or I can resist what is, feel sorry for myself, anger at another, wish it were different, or whatever.
Bottom line is: In the midst of whatever may be occurring in my personal life, or in the larger global arena, I can choose to be happy in this moment.
“But,” says the little voice inside…
“How can I be happy when_____________(fill in the blank – e.g. – “others are suffering, my best friend has cancer, the polar ice caps are melting, the world’s going to hell in a hand basket, my hip hurts, I still have to clean out my garage….” )
How do you fill in the blank? What prevents you from choosing happiness in this moment?
Being happy is not an act of selfishness or ignorance. But it’s amazing how many of us have been conditioned to feel it is.
What if being happy, having the ability to appreciate the little things in life was more than just okay to do? What if simply being a calm, loving presence who radiates an infectious sense of gratitude to those around us was one of the highest forms of service any of us could choose?
Hmm. “What if.”