Subway Riding: Gratitude and Joy

Only two days into 2014, and I was already feeling anxious.
For the last five years, January always starts with a business trip: CES in Las Vegas.
The new variable: this is the first year that I am playing a pretty serious chess match with a virus of some sort. This freaks me out to no end because one of my major travel anxieties is being feverish and shivering on check-out morning with an impending flight to catch–this anxiety increases exponentially when we’re talking business travel.

Yesterday afternoon all these thoughts were flooding my head as I shifted through the New York subway system making my way to my midtown office. I didn’t have to go to the office, technically I’m still on vacation until Monday, but I needed to get in before then because I leave Monday at 6:40am for Vegas and we had a blizzard coming. Yes, these thoughts were also sifting into my already maxed-out, over-tired brain too… How annoying, inconvenient even.
<Sneeze> <Sniffle> <Sneeze>
<Blow my nose>

And then as I boarded the shuttle at Times Square, and I took a moment to breathe, something incredibly unremarkable happened–and if you’ve ever been on a subway you’ll know exactly why I say this–yet this event had a remarkable impact on my state of mind.

Inside the car was a homeless man, but he wasn’t the usual homeless person one crosses path with during the day… He was in a wheelchair, sitting in front of two bongo drums. He was smiling and singing for everyone. He demonstrated for everyone some signature “sounds” he had invented–I think it was called the elephant or something–which miraculously sounded just like one. Then he wished everyone a Happy New Year, reminded us it was a fresh start for all of us and that we could all have a new hope for 2014…and he did not ask for a dime. If you think that was amazing (I did) check this part out: as we pulled into Grand Central Terminal (the one and only stop) I looked around at my fellow riders’ faces and I saw them break into smiles, I even saw one guy give him a thumbs-up as he walked out of the car.  This one guy all by himself managed to have a positive effect on pretty much everyone in this car, myself included.  It was amazing.

I was overwhelmed. If this man–a man with no home–had a song to sing, a song to SHARE, even on a cold winter day, facing an impending blizzard–something I have never had to face: homelessness in a snowstorm–I certainly had much to be grateful for. I was brimming over with gratitude. Gratitude for my life, my warm home and family, my job. Grateful I can get on the subway and grateful still I can get off and have a place to go.  But that’s not all…

I also realized it was up to me to live my life to the fullest. Gratitude is great, but it’s only part of the equation, it’s not happiness. I’m know how to find things to be grateful for, even in unlikely circumstances and because of that, I’m usually grateful, but happiness can evade me.  I think I understand now the piece that unlocks joy is taking that gratitude and acting on it, fearlessly–banging my drum and creating my own sounds–if this man on the subway could do it, what was stopping me from doing it, all the time, everyday, in plain sight.

Then last night, a friend told me this story–I’ve never heard it before and could not find it anywhere online, so this may be their creation–and it all came together:

Picasso goes to Heaven. There he meets God and asks him: “Who was the greatest artist that ever lived?”
God says: “John Davidson.”
Surprised, Picasso replies: “I never heard of him.”
God’s response: “and if he had ever picked up a brush, everyone would have known it.”

The only joy that is possible to experience is the joy I participate in creating. It takes work to be joyful; happiness is the result of some effort.  Perhaps this is common knowledge, and I’m finally catching up.  That’s OK, I’ll be the one beating my drum with a paint brush.

Related Posts
Forget Resolutions I’m Setting 2014 New Years Goals
Holiday Hangover and 2014’s Grateful Resolve
Taxi Cab Confessions Holiday Edition
Gifts To Keep Cozy: Winter Knits

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