Monday, November 7, 2011

A Contagion of Happiness


On a recent Friday afternoon, as I sat lazily reading in my car during a break from work, a vehicle attempted to squeeze into the narrow space adjacent me. As it did, it proceeded to scrape the side of my van! The driver recognized the problem and presently repeated the damage in reverse. I then jumped out, exaggerating the eyes-wide-open-palms-up, hands-8-inches-apart, universal sign for “What’s going on, here?” (Also known as the “What in the world is wrong with you?!” sign). Now out of the space, the driver looked at me and said these two phrases, twice for emphasis: “Nothing happened! Isn’t that funny?” Then, rapid-fire like, turned and drove off! I thought of chasing down this felon-in-training, of catching the license plate number at least, but, I reasoned, my prized caravan is 15 years old, and such violations have become commonplace in its history. Besides, it was a warm and beautiful fall day, so I sat back down and returned to my book.

The following Monday morning, I left said van at home and this time walked the ten minutes to work. About halfway, I noticed some chalk graffiti on the bridge wall beside which I was walking. In various colors, I began to read postings such as, “Rock it!” “Go get ‘em!” and “You can do it!” Even Shakespeare was quoted:

“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” ~Twelfth Night

By now I was curious and began to anticipate the next wall entry, spaced as they were about 20 feet apart. The hopeful declarations intrigued me. Why would anyone get up early to write these inspirational phrases? I was feeling okay when I left for work but now I was becoming downright excited about the day. My walking path to work makes its way through the mass transit parking lot (Boston’s subway system, simply called the ‘T’). The messages continued, face up now on the blacktop: “Follow your dreams.” “Who Da Man? You Da Man!” and “Go, Sister!” Other quotes kept me focused until at last I reached the entrance to the sacred mountain (or, as the locals like to call it “the escalator to the train”). There I read a final challenge, which called upon the courage of all weary workers: “You got this! Carpe Diem!” I was so taken by this magical stroll that I returned at day’s end to capture in pictures some of the, by now, well-worn reflections.

I have sometimes been like that disconnected driver, taking little or no responsibility for the disarray around me that I have been partner to. Hand in the cookie jar, more than once, I have contested my innocence with a quick retort. “Wasn’t me” I might say. That’s not an option now. People are hurting and it isn’t funny anymore. I don’t seek to be a great person, just a good person (Well, maybe I do want to be Someone; but goodness really is greatness in disguise, isn’t it?). No matter. I really am grateful for the jolting object lesson that my bumper-to-car-door fellow traveler delivered that day. We are all giving and receiving messages of good news or bad. But I’d prefer to be like that pre-dawn chalk bandit, hand delivering hope like so many subway tickets to bleary-eyed commuters. After all, the Mystery Scribbler was responsible for the smile I spent the day trying to wipe off. Imagine that, going through your work day trying to stifle a contagion of happiness.

Go Ahead. You can do it. Dare you.