“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee, op’ning to the sun above.”—Henry van Dyke
It was Saturday, and I had several errands that needed completed by weekend’s end. Would I have enough time? I felt anxious. Perhaps, I should not have slept in until 7:00 am.
I left the house around 8:30 am, list in-hand. First stop, my local bank. My stomach was fluttering with worry. Stepping out of the car, the sunshine felt warm and cozy, like wrapping up in my favorite hoodie and sweatpants after work. I looked up and vividly blue sky, streaked with white stretched like the pillow-fill Maddie uses when sewing pillows. The sun kissed my upturned cheeks.
“Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day.”
I entered the bank and was greeted by all of the tellers. Bonnie, a long-standing employee, directed me to come to her.
“Well, how’s life without your daughter, and how is she doing?”
Just that question, alone, warmed my heart. How thoughtful of her to ask. I shared a bit of information regarding Maddie, my daughter—probably more than she wanted to hear. Then, I thanked her for asking.
“I think about her often and wonder how she is doing?”
While I would not call Bonnie a complete stranger, it is not like we are best friends; and yet, she thought of my daughter. What a wonder! I could feel myself smiling as I left the bank. Such a small act of kindness, but it helped assuage my apprehension.
“All thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.”
Crossing the bridge into Huntington, I couldn’t help but notice how golden the morning was unfolding over the mighty Ohio River. Water glinted with silver as if thousands of sewing needles danced on top of the water. I decided to grab a cup of coffee from the shop Maddie and I used to frequent in the mornings before school when she was still home. It seemed like ages since I had last visited.
The sun was dazzling. Huntington was quiet, and the streets were fairly empty. A cheerful young woman bounced along the sidewalk walking her likewise lively dog. His fluffy red tail swished back and forth with metronome-like meticulousness.
“Hi, Stephanie. Haven’t seen you in a while. The usual?”
How did he remember me, much less what I drink?
“How’s your daughter? Where is she now?”
This time, I kept my answer short and to the point.
“Well, we miss seeing you two in here,” he said with a smile as he handed me my coffee.
“Field and forest, vale and mountain, flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.”
Driving on to what was supposed to be the next errand stop, I become lost in my thoughts. I recalled a former kindergarten student I had encountered the previous night, Alexa. Her freckled face lit up with recognition, and I found myself enveloped in her warm embrace. Breaking away from our hug, she turned, face still broad with a gleeful smile and offered kind words to my husband, John, who had also been her teacher when she was a bit older. My heavens, it was wonderful to see her, now at age 21, and know she still had fond memories of her time spent with John and me.
It was then I realized I was driving on autopilot, not focused on my next errand, and was heading towards the school in which I now work. Instead of becoming frustrated with myself, I chose to turn it into an opportunity to head to Ritter Park, walk for a few minutes, and savor the splendid sunshine. Besides, I had not visited the park in over a month, and walking outside does wonders for my spirit.
Nearly blinding and abundant sunshine was interspersed with areas of cool, sweet shade. Colors of fall were clearly emerging—tarnished golds, leathery browns, rich merlots, and vibrant reds intermingled with fading, dull greens. Sand colored leaves now scattered over the path permitting a slight crunching sound that whispered, “This is only the beginning of a new season.” I could feel myself smiling, as I became the proverbial sponge, soaking up God’s goodness as more of my fretfulness fell away.
“Thou are giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
“Hi Mrs. Hill!”
I had completed a full loop of the park, walked up by the rose garden, further up through the rolling hills of the amphitheater, to the very top of the outlook where a large shelter once stood, down to the dog park, and then left, down the hill towards the tennis courts. I looked across the road to a tennis court. There stood one my current students enthusiastically waving at me.
By the end of the walk, I was at peace with the thought, “I will do what I can do today, and leave the rest behind.”
“Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other—Lift us to the joy divine.”
On the following day, we celebrated my dear, sweet mother-in-law’s 89th birthday, a few days before her officials date of October 10.
“Stephanie, how are you? How’s John?”
I looked up from the shopping cart at Route 60 Kroger, and there stood my former, physician. Several years ago, he sadly moved his practice from Proctorville to one closer to his home in Milton, while his kids were in their early teens. He had worked closely with John and me, and, at the time, his moving felt like losing a family-member. Nonetheless, I was stunned, some years later, he would not only recognize me, but also recall John’s name as well as mine—after all, how many patients did he see? Once again, I delighted in conversation with another special person.
“Hi Neil! I am so glad you’re bagging my groceries today. You’re my favorite bagger!”
I was looking at the young man that frequently bagged my groceries with an imploring smile. I purposely search each week for the line in which he bags because he is thoughtful, carefully places products in bags, and then gently arranges bags in my cart. Plus, he always offers to help carry them to my car. So far, I have declined his offer, but it is a nice gesture anyway.
“I was having a bad day until you said that to me,” he replied in his uniquely gravelly voice. “I don’t hear nice things from customers that often. Thank you.”
Later, once home, I was further overjoyed to talk with both of my parents—which is always a special treat.
In the end, most chores on the day’s to-do list were completed; the rest could be knocked out the following day at some point. More importantly, I was reminded of the joy of living a life that matters—maybe not on a grand scale, like a politician or entertainer, but rather in the simple day-to-day gestures that are frequently undervalued; such as, greeting another person by name, asking a personal question or two, wishing someone a good day, taking time exchange pleasantries, smiling, or even offering a hug. It is these seemingly effortless acts that quite often offer a momentary minute of joy.