Feeling the Joy

Dear Will:

We have this delightful, irresistible friend who likes to say that she is a “certified joyologist.” She’s kidding, but if you met her and heard her infectious laugh and saw the way she infuses a room with positive energy, you would have no reason to question her claim.

Given the chaos and disruption of 2020, we figure we could all use a little more joyology in our lives. A lot more, actually. As the poet Mary Oliver has written, “joy is not made to be a crumb.” Rather, she says, “if you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.”

All right. We’re game. ‘Tis the season, after all, when joy shows up on billboards and t-shirts and any number of gift bags (shopping bags, for that matter). Looking back on this year-like-no-other, there have been plenty of things that have brought us joy in spite—and sometimes because—of all the rest. So in this season of giving, we’re giving in. To joy.

There were many moments during 2020 in which we suddenly, unexpectedly felt joy. Moments like these:

  • When hundreds of my co-workers agreed to voluntary pay-cuts so that no one would be laid off or furloughed (not a bad place to work, right?)
  • Before: 90-mile commute on the 405. Now: 30-foot stroll down the hall (pants optional)
  • Working with a puppy asleep at your feet (panting optional)
  • Hearing the sound of neighbor children lost in imagination on a cool, summer evening (love that)
  • Knowing that many doubters wear masks anyway for the sake of the rest of us (love them)
  • Sitting together—just the two of us—on the patio outside of Rubio’s (first night out in months)
  • Making new friends of old neighbors while walking Nacho, the least-disciplined dog in Orange County (work-in-negligible-progress)
  • Eavesdropping while Dana tutors one of her students (who knew math could be so fun?)
  • Texting with Seth during the Lakers’ Championship in Quarantine (perhaps even better than the championship itself)
  • Watching more movies AND reading more books (how is that possible?)
  • Trading in Dana’s two worn-out knees for a couple of state-of-the-art titanium numbers (to match her titanium hips)
  • Cheering in the early dawn as our beloved Brentford Bees came THIS CLOSE to the Premiership (best season ever)
  • Sunday evening Facetime Poetry Hour with Bryn (how else would we know about Mary Oliver?)
  • All of us avoiding COVID-19 (so far)
  • Seeing a resounding affirmation that democracy still works (so far)
  • First tour of Luke and Tyler’s first house (quirky and delightful, just like the house)
  • Spending a distanced weekend with Bryn and Seth at Silver City Mountain Resort (before they were chased out by the fires)
  • Celebrating the Dodgers’ first championship since before any of our kids was born (catharsis)
  • Looking on as Nacho disembowels yet another squeaky toy (no blue dragon is safe)
  • Studying Engineering from home while enrolled at UCLA (correction: no joy in that for Seth whatsoever—he’s moved back to Westwood)
  • Eating Guerilla Tacos during the Worst Drive-in Dance Concert of the COVID Era™ (Date Night!)
  • Witnessing the selflessness of medical personnel and other essential workers (angels and superheroes)
  • Meeting the brand-new baby of our brand-new friends who arrived only a few months ago as refugees from Afghanistan (you’d love them too)
  • Sitting down to compile this list (and there’s more where this came from)
  • Thinking about friends like you (corny, but true)
  • Celebrating the birth of Jesus (Joy to the World!)

Here’s hoping for even more joyology in 2021.

PW

Photo by Anthony Asael

To See and Feel and Witness

Dear Will:

Last week I drove north on Veteran Avenue en route to my son’s apartment near the UCLA campus. As a Bruin myself, I’ve driven that road countless times, but it’s been a while. The drive was thus made new again by the morning view it gave me of the Los Angeles National Cemetery, with its silent rows of gravestones, standing at attention to honor the veterans who lie in rest there along the avenue—90,000+ as I understand it.

The sight will hush you into an urge to turn off the radio. Which you should do.

During the first few years of our married life together, Dana and I lived in a duplex apartment just south of that cemetery. I can remember one Memorial Day pushing a stroller through its hallowed rows and talking to my firstborn about what made those grounds so sacred. He could not have been more than two years old, so his dad’s discourse was surely incomprehensible. But you do not need language to convey the feeling that lingers in a place like that. As a new father, I felt it was important that Luke have that experience—that even as a toddler he have the chance to see and feel and witness.

I still feel that way. Perhaps it is because of the impact of my first visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. I was there in February of my senior year in high school, and there was snow on the ground. When it’s cold like that, they change the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier every half hour, but what gave me chills was not the weather. It was the image of one member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, assigned to stand guard while I watched in reverent silence. I can still picture the face of that stoic soldier whose every step reverberated through the grounds. He did not vary his 21-step cadence as he marched in the morning chill, the physical effect of which could be plainly seen streaming from his nose, across his chin, and onto the front of his otherwise impeccable uniform. And yet he did not sniff nor flinch nor waver. I was awestruck (still am!) by the respect and honor he showed on our behalf as we gathered in grateful tribute to the nameless soldiers represented there.

How many thousands more like them have given what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion”? And how many others have similarly sworn to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” an obligation they have taken “freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion”? It’s a remarkable choice given the possible consequences. I have a nephew, a newly commissioned West Point grad, who just a few weeks ago took that very oath. I watched the scene play out via video. And I wept.

These men and women, both living and dead, represent the very best in us, modeling the very best that we can be. Among those of us who have taken an easier, safer course, they have no equal. In fact, the very best of all has himself declared: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It bears repeating: You cannot love more than that. May no one ever doubt their convictions, question their devotion, or denigrate their service. Such women and men deserve and have earned our greatest respect and (given the nature of their sacrifice) our eternal gratitude.

And so, if I could, on this Veterans Day I would write to all of them these words which cannot possibly convey the depth of what I feel: Thank you for your service.

PW

A Call to Prayer

Praying Together

Dear Will:

It’s not every day you get invited to hang out at the local mosque. Not if you’re a Christian like me anyway. I wasn’t even sure there was a local mosque, and it turns out there are four or five within 15 minutes of my house. So when Dana and I heard about “Open Mosque Days,” we were all over it. I hadn’t been inside a mosque since high school, and the only thing I remember from that visit was a large room with a beautiful rug. (I was such a deep thinker at 17.) I can tell you already that our visit to the Islamic Center of Yorba Linda will prove to have a more meaningful, lasting impact.

As we arrived we were greeted enthusiastically, given a brief tour, and then joined a handful of others for a brief overview of the basic tenets of the faith, including the Five Pillars of Islam. As if on cue, soon we heard the call to prayer, which gave us the opportunity to witness one of those five pillars: Salat. We thought of Moses as we removed our shoes and were welcomed into the prayer hall. I was especially moved by the simple motions performed by each person prior to beginning their prayers as they signaled a casting off of worldly things and an opening up to God.

After prayers, our new friends sat patiently answering our questions about what they believe and why, and it shouldn’t surprise you that we saw more meaningful similarities than differences in our beliefs. Dana and I left the mosque with a variety of homemade treats, our own copy in of the Quran (in English), and an invitation to return to join in a typical Friday afternoon worship service. We were so touched by the warmth and kindness extended to us that, as we embraced our Muslim neighbors and said our goodbyes, we knew that we will certainly find opportunity to return.

Later that same day, we met Dana’s brother David and his wife Annette for dinner. The two of them are currently presiding over the California Arcadia Mission for our church, so it’s a treat for us when a window opens up in their crazy schedule and we can rendezvous for dinner somewhere. As we settled in to eat, David’s phone buzzed. It was, it turned out, an electronic call to prayer. At 4:55 pm every day, everyone in the Arcadia Mission (and, I presume, their families around the world) pause to pray together, wherever they may be. And so in that restaurant we bowed and gave thanks to God for food and family and life itself, praying also that their young missionaries might be protected and inspired in their work; that those they meet and teach might come to understand and believe the truths that they share; that God might watch over and uplift all who live within the area, especially guiding the pure in heart to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and that the families of those missionaries might be sustained and comforted as well. Such a simple, powerful act of faith and unity. I felt a pang of regret that we had not done something similar with our son throughout the time he served as a missionary in Argentina and Paraguay.

In that public setting, our prayer may have lacked the ritual and ambient reverence of what we had experienced in the Islamic Center. But the chance to pause and commune with God was no less meaningful. I felt something especially powerful about the collective nature of such prayer. There was something about knowing that, at that very moment, others were making similar pleas to the Almighty, something that helped me feel a oneness with brothers and sisters around the world.

Muslims have a chance to feel that sense of extended community five times a day, at specific intervals dictated by the position of the sun in the sky. That suggests that at any given moment of any given day, thousands or even millions of Muslims are facing Mecca and worshiping God together. And it makes me wonder: How might our individual lives be different (and the world for that matter), if all of us—Christians, Muslims, Jews, God-fearing people of every race and religion—paused at a designated time each day to give thanks and praise to our Creator, to solicit together greater peace and harmony throughout our troubled world? What if every day at the same time we poured out our hearts as one on behalf of the poor and the afflicted and offered our mutual commitment to be a bit less selfish and a lot more kind, more generous with what we have and more humble about all that we lack? What if we united daily in collective supplication, appealing for less contention and more generosity of spirit while pledging our personal commitment to make these things possible in our own remote corner of this vast and varied world? Imagine how such a prayer of brother-and-sisterhood, offered in faith and hope, might begin to change the way we think and interact with one another. It would not be enough to make all of that actually happen, but it would be a start.

I think that’s an experiment worth trying. Perhaps we could even start tomorrow. Say maybe around 4:55 pm?

PW