Thursday, August 24, 2006
St. Francis claimed that perfect joy was accepting humiliation with equanimity. Though few of us would actively seek that kind of joy, it demonstrates the power of attitude and belief in how we experience events.
For me, perfect joy is a capricious and unexpected moment; it's a wriggling puppy that never performs on command. Like my purse and various other objects that constantly go missing at our house, it is rarely where I thought I left it.
One such capricious moment occurred last week at my waitressing job. We were in the clearing phase of a wedding in the tent and had set up our usual breakdown station behind the bar. While a couple of my co-workers cleared the room, another waitress and I worked the station, scraping, sorting, stacking, and then carrying trays and glass racks up to the kitchen. Scraping garbage and hoisting heavy trays hardly sounds like an occasion for joy--but there it was. Who was I to argue?
The band was playing the old Donna Summer tune, "On the Radio" and moonlight bedazzled the ocean outside the tent. But music and beauty are regulars where I work, and joy, as I said, is an unpredictable guest.
For at least an hour, we worked in synch, in almost balletic labor, perfectly attuned to one another's movements and to the task at hand. Focused on our common goal, we used our bones and sinews, our efficiency, our cooperation to get the job done. It felt good and satisfying. And then a breeze came up off the water and the Donna Summer song started, and joy, perfect joy, danced in.
Much is made of the state of "flow" that artists or runners enter when they lose themselves in their activity, but physical work, when its going well, also generates flow.
I don't waitress much now--one day a week or less, and soon, very soon, I will not do it at all. For many years, I talked about this, waited for this, dreamed of this. But that night, feeling the end of the season in a particular way, I lingered in the dark tent when the clean-up was done. After all the tables had been rolled out, I sat on a folding chair, and contemplated the stars, the black ocean, the empty space that had so recently been filled with celebration; and I wondered where joy will find me now.