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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

In Other Words: If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is


We tend to dwell on bad news. It’s easy to do. There’s the old newspaper adage that if it bleeds, it leads. And that seems to apply to our personal lives as well. I am not sure what that reveals about human nature, and I’m willing to save that for another discussion, but we need to resist the urge to think the world is a dark and dangerous place and that people are out to harm us. 

There is no denying that bad things happen and that we need to be aware, but it is equally true that people are good, strangers are willing to help, to sacrifice, in order to help others. We need to be aware of that  when a stranger waves you over into another lane in a traffic jam or someone retrieves the apple that got away in the produce section or a neighbor shovels your walk or a card of encouragement unexpectedly shows up in the mail or you’re invited to share in a wedding or significant life event or any other hundreds of sweet moments. 

The other day someone sideswiped my car in a parking lot breaking the housing of the passenger mirror. The mechanics were not damaged and I retrieved the pieces about 15 feet away. While at the repair shop my wife asked in passing about a couple of scratches on the door. The attendant disappeared only to return with a cloth and product and he buffed the scratch out saying, “That’s not so bad. This one is easy.” He smiled. No charge. That little act of kindness meant so much.

On a Friday years ago, after a prolonged wave of what seemed like oppressive news I impulsively posted Good News Friday on social media. It was a reaction to what was happening. If I needed some good news then I was sure others did as well. I thought it would be a one day thing, but I was wrong. 

The response was overwhelming. People shared all sorts of little joys in their lives. It's now a weekly thing. I once forgot and I received a number of texts gently reminding me to get on it. I also receive notes throughout the week where people share some sort of good news. The notes usually begin with “I know it’s not Friday but.…” I am here to tell you that hope is alive and well and the world is a joyous place to be. It’s good to see those endorphins and dopamine chemicals released every Friday into the brains of everyone who participates. Sure, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s going to impact their worlds. It’s nice. 

The other day, I was working in the garden preparing it for winter. I knew it would probably be one of the last nice days for a while so I built a fire in the pit, grabbed a drink, and opened a book. While the golden maple leaves shimmered in the breeze, the birds fed at the feeders, the garden bubbler bubbled, the squirrels romped through the fallen leaves, and for a moment, I felt an inexpressible joy. A moment of contentment. 

And that’s when I recalled this line from a Kurt Vonnegut essay. It’s no secret that Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors; I quote him often. In an essay he tells the story of an uncle who would stop to savor the little moments of joy. Vonnegut encouraged the reader to savor the simple joys, the small victories, the moments of beauty, like his uncle did. Vonnegut writes, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’”

In a complex world we think every answer must be equally complex. It’s not. We can find that joy everywhere if we are willing to see. And while there is much sorrow and darkness, the sun always rises. I have repeated Vonnegut’s line to my wife countless times. It’s gotten to the point where now I start with, “You know, if this isn’t nice” and she finishes with “I don’t know what is.” And that is how you savor joy.

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