Monday, April 30, 2012

Ode To Joy - Aron Smith

The word “joy” has numerous associations for me, many of them musical in nature. There is Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” the last movement of his famous Ninth Symphony. There is “Joy to the World,” both the Christmas carol and the Three Dog Night song about Jeremiah (the bullfrog, not the prophet). And last but not least, let us not forget the “Happy Happy Joy Joy” song from The Ren and Stimpy Show (anyone still remember that?).

It has been suggested that true joy can be experienced only by innocent children, those young enough to not have been corrupted by the evils of the world, the cares of everyday life and the influences of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. I don’t agree. I believe that joy can only be achieved by one who has experienced a great deal of pain. Even babies can experience a moment of pleasure, but true joy requires appreciation that comes from life experience.

 I have had two experiences with people who came to define joy in its absence, pointed examples of how much more we appreciate a thing when it is gone.

The first involved the family of an old college friend of mine. After graduation, she joined the Peace Corps and found a new perspective on life in the jungles of Zaire. She was from my hometown in New York, and during her two years away, I often called her mother for updates. We frequently found ourselves drinking tea in her kitchen, commiserating over our respective woes. Hers were so much greater than mine, particularly after her son died of a drug overdose in his twenties. His name was Roy, and I will never forget the day she asked me to view his bedroom, left untouched since the day he moved to an apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The item that remains indelibly stamped on my mind is the JOY sign on his bedroom wall, left over from some past Christmas. He had turned the J upside down so that it looked like the lower case letter R.

My second story occurred many years later, when I was working for the phone company here in California. One day, the manager in charge of quality assurance, efficiency and improvement in employee morale was telling me about her teenaged son. It turns out that her son cleverly came up with a word to describe the feeling he experienced on days when his father was grumpy, critical and yelling. The word was “yoj,” which, of course, is “joy” backwards.

I think most of us would agree that we’ve had plenty of “yoj” in our lives. The good news, however, is that, just like in the kids’ song, “a smile is just a frown turned upside down.” We have the ability to turn “yoj” around.

I have found that one way of returning to joy is by putting things into perspective. Thinking of how much worse a troublesome situation could have been and counting my blessings does help. One of my favorite sayings is “may this be the worst thing that ever happens to me.”

My other method of returning to joy is doing something to help others. To me, joy is the inner glow I feel when I know I have made some tiny contribution to the happiness of another. The giver receives more joy than the recipient. Not only that, but the joy felt by the recipient is likely to positively affect his or her relationships with others, which then gets passed on to still others. I really do believe that everything we do, positive or negative, has a domino effect that ultimately touches multitudes of others farther afield than we could ever imagine. This is why every act we do and every word out of our mouths is so important. You would probably be shocked if you knew how many are regularly influenced by you.

The Bible is full of references to joy. My favorites are both from the Book of Psalms, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalms 98 and 100) and “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Ps. 30:5 The first teaches us (among other things) that God wants us to experience joy. The second reminds us that pain is temporary, but joy is forever.

Throughout history, it has been demonstrated that joy is the precipitate at the bottom of the test tube, what remains when all the pain is burned off. We moved from slavery in Egypt to freedom, from bondage to salvation. Wars and economic difficulties end, peace and prosperity return.

And as for making a joyful noise, is it any wonder that our culture so loves its music, whether it be Beethoven or Three Dog Night?

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