It is not easy being named Joy. Monikers like Smith or Jones or Cumberbatch don’t come with expectations. Even folks named Miller aren’t asked to grind your wheat into flour. But this time of the year people do seem to think a guy named Joy should be cheerful. And that can be a challenge even once you take to carrying mistletoe in your pocket and wearing bells on your shoes.
While a name can be hard to live up to, Bush for example, maybe it’s good to have expectations. Thought of properly they might be called aspirations. Being Joyful, while not always easy, is a darned good thing to aspire to.
I sometimes listen to people at Christmastime and think their statements of “Goodwill to men” ring hollow. When you see how “men” treat each other all the rest of the year it would be easy to lapse into cynicism. There is a lot of meanness and anger and cruelty and hatred in the world. The headlines are filled with war abroad and shootings at home. It is hard to believe that singing a few carols, tipping the garbage man, and distributing inedible fruit cake can make a dent in mans inhumanity to man.
But, as a guy named Joy I ask you this, “What else can make a difference?” The human race, it seems to me, is not a lost cause. We are not perfect but let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good. And let us not dwell on badness because surely badness breeds badness. Expressions of Joy during the Holidays are not naive, but hopeful. Our challenge is to expand this little hiatus from hatred into something bigger. The headline here is “Joy says Joy should be bigger!” (An aspiration if I’ve ever heard one)
A traditional Christmas letter has always seemed rather self-aggrandizing to me; my kids are great, my wife is beautiful, and we took cooler vacations than you this year. (By the way, just to be clear: My kids actually are great, my wife is, indeed beautiful, and ……). Anyway, in lieu of such a recital, I thought I would tell you a story this year for Christmas / New Year. Don’t worry, it’s a short one. My story is about how people are not all jerks; and it goes like this.
My crew and I were in Dayton, Ohio. The hotel there is a nice one but sits right on an Interstate Highway which separates it rather effectively from most of the eating establishments in the nearby town. We had heard from the hotel front desk clerk about a “pretty good” barbecue place on the other side of the highway. We decided to try it. Despite the fact that it was only a hundred yards from the hotel in a straight line we had to hike nearly a mile to reach the restaurant via the highway overpass north of the hotel. It was a nice day and pleasantly warm so we took off walking.
The food was “pretty good” as promised and the only “dark cloud” on our little field trip turned out to be an actual dark cloud. Almost as soon as we left the restaurant the sky let loose sheets of rain, big drops, the kind that sting when they hit your face. We ran hard to the shelter of a gas station canopy and stood there watching what looked like, on the radar, a “major rain event.” I called the hotel to see if they might send the van to pick us up. Alas, the driver had taken a group to the airport and would not be back for an hour.
We weighed our options. We didn’t really want to call a taxi to go a hundred yards. Our clothes were damp but we didn’t really want to endure the soaking a walk back might entail, either. And despite the charms of the Kum n’ Go, we quickly exhausted our interest in beef jerky and pine tree air fresheners. As we stood there pondering our future a black SUV pulled up to within a couple feet of me and rolled down it’s window.
Inside was not a menacing “Men in Black” dude, but a small grandmotherly lady with a broad grin on her face. “Are you guys pilots?” she asked (though I could not imagine how she knew this.) I said, simply, “yes.” She smiled even more broadly if that was possible and said, “would you like a ride back to the hotel? You will get soaked if you try to walk.” And yes, we very much did want a ride. “Hop in,” she said, “I’ll drive you over.”
And so I found myself riding through the rain, with my crew of three, soaking the leather seats of the personal automobile of a lady I had never met before. More importantly, of course, since I had my two buddies with me was the fact that she had never met us before. She knew nothing about my crew (monks or axe murderers) except that we were some perfect strangers who were in a pickle. She had seen us from the road, turned and driven over to the gas station, and without fear or trepidation, given us a ride.
“A small gesture,” you might say. But whatever the size, it was a lovely gesture. Driving on by would have been a reasonable and “normal” reaction. But she took time from her busy schedule (running her own hair salon, I found out) to help someone she didn’t know, without hesitation, and without hope of renumeration. And how did she know we were flight crew? She said we looked like pilots. I’m not sure if that is bad or good – but for us it was good enough.
So I ask you, does this little lady’s gesture signify anything about the human race? I think it does. I think it means that in a world with a very high density of jerks we are not all jerks and maybe there is hope for us yet. Does it make up for the shootings and the reality TV shows and the …. well, the Trumps. Yes, yes it does!
Merry Christmas to all of you!