I clearly remember the moment this picture was taken — and I remember why that day was so special to me.
I was visiting my sister and my nieces at their home in Nashville. It was an unhappy time for me — about 10 years ago — because I had gone through an emotionally difficult breakup. I was eating my way through depression and I’d gained a hundred pounds. (I’ve never managed to take all of it off.)
In the middle of that darkness, I lost the ability — at least temporarily — to experience joy or pleasure. The only exceptions to that were the joy and happiness I felt with my nieces and with my cats and dogs.
That’s Anna on the left and Katherine on the right. They were two radically different personalities, but I loved them both. They seemed to enjoy my visits, too. Maybe it was because I gave them interesting gifts. Maybe it was because we would go to Maggie Moo’s for ice cream. But I like to think they just loved me.
I was visiting that day because I had been so unhappy. Seeing them always made me feel loved and it always connected me with something which I find lacking in most of us who have grown old enough to forget.
Thursday evening, Lucy and I were in the car on a quick trip to an ATM. She was in the back seat, but she had her head near my right shoulder, as she tends to do in the car. She periodically rubs slightly against my face and I can almost hear her thoughts.
“I love you so much,” I imagine Lucy thinking. “I’m so happy to be with you every day. I can’t imagine being happier than this.”
It’s no surprise that I call her the World’s Happiest Dog®.
I know better than to think the thoughts in Lucy’s brain are really that complex or self-reflective. But something about her attitude makes me feel that this is how she instinctively feels about life.
It’s the same sort of attitude that I experience from children, for the most part. Even when things don’t go their way, they can quickly find another way to be happy.
And as I thought about this with Lucy, my mind went back to the time I’ve spent with 4-year-old Isabella this week. In her, I experience the same unbounded joy of living that I feel from Lucy. And it’s the same sort of joy that I felt back when I used to visit with Katherine and Anna when they were much younger.
I frequently say that I like children and animals better than most adults. It’s a joke, but there’s some truth in it, too.
Children and animals seem to live in the eternal “now.” They don’t seem to be held back by the past that they can’t change. They’re not crippled by a future they can’t control. They’re not worrying what other people think. They’re not crippled with self-doubt.
They seem to be happy to be alive and enjoying this world.
I know that adults can experience this, too. Every now and then, I’ve met some of them. My mother was one of them. She was very child-like in some ways, and I wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t be more in touch with that part of me which came from her instead of the critical part which I inherited from my father.
But most adults have forgotten how to experience happiness, much less joy.
Most adults are confused about what happiness is. To them, they’ve substituted an odd notion that being happy is about pleasure or “having fun,” which most often seems to involve getting drunk and doing things they wouldn’t do if they were sober.
There’s nothing wrong with having fun, although my idea of fun is very different from that of most people. There’s also nothing wrong with experiencing pleasure, although most people seem to be willing to degrade themselves or others in order to have momentary pleasure.
But fun and pleasure are fleeting. You experience them for a moment and they’re gone. They’re like candy or some form of empty junk food.
Joy is different.
Joy is transcendent. It touches something deeper in your soul. If you remember how to feel joy, it’s something which doesn’t ever fully leave you.
The more true joy you feel, the closer you feel to all of Nature. You start to realize that Creation is more than just a random collection of molecules that somehow magically came to life. You realize that there is meaning in life — not necessarily even in what we accomplish or what we show to other people.
There is meaning in life that comes from just experiencing the joy of being alive.
Children would rarely be able to articulate that. Animals would never be able to comprehend it, much less say it. But children and animals somehow understand that joy. As we become “responsible adults,” we seem to forget the joy. We seem to forget the meaning of life. We forget everything that seemed so obvious when the world was beautiful and innocent.
That’s why I enjoyed Katherine and Anna so much as children.
That’s why I’ve enjoyed spending time with Isabella this week.
That’s why I love Lucy and my cats so fiercely.
They all give me something — a window into something which I barely remember. I want to spend my life more deeply enmeshed in the joy and wonder and happiness which seem to come so easily to them.
As adults, we forget how to do that. A few of us remember — just enough to want it back — and I’m still trying to bring that joy and meaning back to my life full time.
Note: The last photo was from a visit to Nashville to see Katherine and Anna in about 2002. I can’t believe Anna was ever that tiny.