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The Joy of Discovery

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There seems to be so much tragedy and sadness in the news these days. The horrible carnage in Ukraine, America’s absurd fascination with guns, and the grotesque nightmare for women and children in Afghanistan continuously fill our social media and news reports. It sometimes seems that we have almost lost touch with with our capacity to joyfully experience the miracles of our daily life.

I asked myself if there was something I as an individual might do to make a small difference. This post is my answer: three fictional short stories where unexpected joy was discovered. I hope they bring a smile to your face!

Discovering What Matters

Dealing with unreasonable customers and angry staff had made it a tough week for John. Samuel, the accounting department head of one of his important customers, had called Tim, the lead programmer, and demanded a few “minor” changes to their new billing system – but without any postponement of the agreed delivery date.

Tim had tried to explain that the “minor” changes in fact involved a significant amount of re-programming and additional cost. Samuel refused to accept any delay and argued that he was only asking for what he had intended from the beginning. Tim was a little too young and inexperienced to realize that “the customer is always right” and created a lot of anger and ill will with Samuel.

Samuel had called John immediately after the meeting and angrily insisted that Tim be taken off the project because he was “unwilling to deal with that jerk any longer.” It had been exhausting to try and placate Samuel and he had been less than calm and supportive in his meeting with Tim and letting him know that his choice was either to apologize to Samuel and get the changes made or look for another job.

When John got home that Friday evening, he was tired and grumpy. His young son, Eddy, had reached the terrible two’s with a vengeance and Sally, his wife, spent much of the dinner describing the havoc that Eddy had caused that day. John did his best to listen empathetically, but he found himself silently asking himself, Job-like, “Why me, Lord?”

The next morning, wanting nothing more than a good, hot cup of coffee, he pressed the start button of the coffee maker. It remained aggravatingly silent and non-functional. John’s “Oh, shit” was drowned out by a bright flash of lightening followed immediately by an enormous crash of thunder. The skies opened up with torrential rainfall and large hail that crashed onto the roof and bounced in crazy angles from the patio pavement. The strong wind caught the brand new tar paper covering on the shed roof in the backyard and ripped off a big chunk that went flying away into the neighbor’s yard.

Suddenly there was a loud squeal of delight from the dinning room. It was Eddy, naked except for his diapers, leaning with both hands against the sliding glass door. The rain and hail was pounding on the glass pane just centimeters from his face. The noise and cold was absolute magic for Eddy. He squealed again, pounding his hands against the glass as though he were fighting off the onslaught with just his tiny hands. He turned to look at his dad with this enormous grin and eyes so bright that John felt he was seeing God.

He ran to the sliding door, got down on his knees behind Eddy, and put his hands around him and onto the glass. He squealed a bit, just like Eddy had done, and that sent Eddy into a fit of giggles. John could only hug him tight and wipe his tears of joy in Eddy’s soft, blond hair.

Exploring a Woody Trail

Marge’s forty-five year career as a high school teacher had come to an end. Her last day had ended pretty much like all the thousands before with a noisy exit of all the teenagers the moment the bell rang. There were no surprises, no farewell, no wish for her to enjoy her retirement.

“Who needs surprises?” she sighed as she gathered up her things. At the door, she turned back for one last look. Expecting to feel sadness, she was surprised by her sense of relief. The careful, daily lesson planning was finally over.

She had been thinking for some time about exploring a different part of the country on her vacation this year. She had been doing internet research for some time, making careful notes about costs, uncertainties regarding animals, temperature and insects, and making a large spreadsheet showing the tradeoffs for each possible destination.

When she got home that evening, she reviewed all of her analysis and, with only a little hesitation, made a reservation for the following week at an isolated log cabin along the Oregon coast. She spent much of the rest of the week deciding what to pack.

“I sure don’t want to go all that distance and then be surprised that I forgot something important,” she thought at one point.

She made herself a delicious breakfast that first morning. Then, she gathered her back pack, walking stick, insect repellent, first aid kit and emergency protein bars and prepared to set off. As she stood on the gravel driveway to the cabin, she pulled out her iPhone, checking to be sure that the battery was 100% charged, and entered her current location as “home” on the navigation app.

She went through her mental check list one last time, making sure her battery backup was also 100% charged, and headed onto a well-marked trail into the woods. It was a beautiful walk, but she was a bit preoccupied with carefully noting which direction she chose at each fork in the trail. “Don’t want any surprises finding my way back again,” she mumbled to herself.

The trail eventually led to a beautiful sunny clearing with a magnificent view of the valley, stretching off to the blue waters of the distant Pacific Ocean. This was paradise, she thought, and congratulated herself on her careful planning that had led to this wonderful moment.

“Well, hello there! What a surprise. I certainly never imagined I would find such a beautiful lover of nature here on this trail.”

Her heart pounding in shock at this totally unexpected voice, Marge turned around and looked at the bearded man behind her. His eyes were bright with life and interest, his hair with streaks of gray was neatly combed and – and – his knapsack was the same color and brand as hers.

They just stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Then, with the beginnings of a smile, Marge heard herself say, “Sometimes surprises are good things!”

Love Affairs

Stan woke up early the morning of his first day at college. He flipped once more through the pages of his new textbooks on zoology, calculus and inorganic chemistry while eating breakfast. The history and English composition books remained sealed in their bookstore plastic.

Stan had tried to get out of taking English, but the registrar said that freshman English was a required course – no exceptions. Stan found the first semester to be as boring and irrelevant as he had feared, with the weekly 500 word essays an unwanted distraction from his science courses.

As Stan was buying his books for the second semester, he discovered that the required text for English was entitled Introduction to English Literature. Stan added the book to his basket, mumbling to no one in particular, “Jeez, another eighteen weeks reading what long-dead authors have written.”

On the first day of class, the instructor introduced himself as Paul Harris and talked about his intentions for the class. It would not be about “right” answers but rather how well we could express our reactions to and understanding of what each author had written.

Hemingway’s “The Short, Happy Life of Francis McComber” was the first homework assignment. Stan reluctantly picked up the book and his notepad after dinner and began reading – and the rest of the world disappeared for the next twenty minutes. He sat there in astonishment for a few moments, then began to rereading the story more slowly and taking careful notes.

An married couple were on a safari in Africa. The wife constantly demeaned her husband, belittled his cowardliness on the hunt, and tried to dominate him in their interactions. She wants to sleep with the safari leader. Then, when the husband finds the courage to face a charging lion, she “accidentally” shoots him. Her claim that she was actually trying to protect him from the charging lion was clearly a lie.

As the next class began, Mr. Harris started the discussion by asking Stan to read his essay to the class. Stan read only a couple of sentences before Mr. Harris interrupted with, “Wait a minute. You just rattled off the title and didn’t say anything about it. What is the title of the story telling us?”

Puzzled by the question, Stan said that it meant that his wife killed him while he was still young.

“Do you think he really had a particularly happy life, even though it was short, based on what we are told about him in the story”? Stan had to admit that he didn’t.

“Was he ever happy at any point in the story?”

Stan thought for a moment, then said he was perhaps happy when he finally found the courage to face the lion charging at him.

“And how long was he happy?”

The flood of recognition that “short” modified “happy” rather than “life” was a door opening into a vast room of treasures that had been completely unknown to Stan. A life-long love affair with literature began in that moment.

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