I was recently reminded of an encounter with someone who embodied a spirit of play and light-heartedness that so many of us yearn for these days. It was, for me, a small but meaningful message from the universe. I sat down on a flight to Arizona ( pre-pandemic!) beside a woman who was probably in her early thirties. She was dressed casually in jeans and a white and blue nautical style shirt with sparkly silver-sequined converse sneakers. We made some brief small talk, mentioning how warm and stuffy the plane felt. As she reached up to turn on the air vent I saw what looked like a small flourish tattoo on the inside of her right pointer finger.
Because I am a “hip and modern” 50-something who got a small ankle tattoo with my daughter a few years ago, I felt open to comment and shared – “oh how pretty your tattoo is on your finger.” She replied “oh, my mustache” and held her finger to her upper lip. Sure enough it was a tattoo of a curly mustache! As she held it up she giggled and so did I. “That makes it even better” I said. And I meant it!
The moment passed and we both went ahead with “regular” solitary travel activities – she slept soundly against the window while I pulled out a notebook and jotted down a to-do list that had been jostling in my head for days. I even wrote out some “90 day goals “ for a new project I am starting – all very efficient and effective and productive-like. But as my seat mate was dreaming of far off destinations or other adventures and I checked on the time change from one location to the next, I couldn’t help but smile and be appreciative of that mustache tattoo. What a gift to have a light enough heart that you would permanently inscribe a gag on your own body! What an opportunity to create laughter and lighten the mood in an instant in any setting (as she had for me.)
What a playful and generous spirit this represented to me. I was in awe of such a spirit having been a somewhat serious person most of my life – not entirely, but enough that I generally follow rules, conform (for the most part) to expectations and work to be “successful.” I did have rebellious teenage years, have tackled some serious travel adventures, and I do, after all, have a tattoo. I know I have rebellion and courage and playfulness inside me. I know how to dance and laugh and let go; it is something I specifically try to nurture these days -especially because of the soul-searching the pandemic has inspired (and.. Because I have passed the half-century mark.!!)
If we don't make our own joy, we can be swept up in busyness, goal seeking and daily pressures; swept up into pessimism, loss of hope, boredom or even existential dread. One lesson of the pandemic is that some of us have woken up to find that our joy has been stripped from us. Yet it IS available if only we consciously seek it, nurture it, allow it.
When we intentionally cultivate joy it increases and, over time, comes to us more easily.
I’m not quite ready to get a mustache tattoo, nor will I suggest this tactic to my daughter or son, but maybe, just maybe I’ll try a temporary mustache tattoo to see what it brings out in others around me. In the meantime, I am relishing the sight of birds at my bird feeders, podcasts that feature Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen together (true joy!), news of my children making their way successfully in the world, walks in the winter sunshine, and Sunday morning zoom coffee with my sisters and mom.
Are you consciously seeking joy in your world? It doesn’t matter how you do it; joy can be cultivated in so many little ways throughout our lives- it may not take much, but it does need nurturing. Don’t wait for joy to spontaneously arrive – go find it. Dance with your dog, sing karaoke, call a friend and do something silly together- don’t wait! As you go through your days, also be mindful of the joy that is already present in simple moments if we pay enough attention. We may be stuck at home for a bit longer, but we don't have to be without joy!
I hope I’m never too busy to be joyful and this is my hope for you too!
Kudos to you, girl with a mustache tattoo - you’ve given me joyful memories of past travels!