On a recent trip to Nashville, I had the ridiculously fun opportunity to catch up with Jessica Dotta - and, boy, were we in for a thought-provoking experience.
(Jessica was the first person I hired into Glass Road, over 8 years ago. She worked at GR for about a year, then took a position to help another ministry grow. I hired her back when GR expanded and she brought her indefatigable spirit and staunch work ethic to bear. A year later, this brave soul decided to focus full time on her writing. Now, my incredibly talented friend is a published novelist with Tyndale whose first release is going gangbusters.)
It’s been over a year since we talked and I was excited to hear about Jessica’s book release, share with her about the big announcements coming up in my world (yes, the announcements are coming!), and just enjoy each other’s company again. We met at my hotel for breakfast.
As we laughed and shared stories and fell into that camaraderie that is forged in the trenches and always picks up right where it left off, the minutes flew by. I think I’d just told her about the strange looks I garner at the gym because I laugh out loud while watching “Friends” and running (I go to the quietest gym on the planet – it’s eerie) when a gentleman with thinning gray hair, round glasses, loose cardigan and slacks pulled up a bit too high, approached our table.
He stood there a moment, cleared his throat, and said, “Ladies, I had to come over here.” I prepared to be asked to quiet down (we were loud). The man clasped his hands in front of him. He looked toward the floor. He shook his head slightly and shrugged. He seemed to be trying to get control of his emotions and I wondered if Jess’s storytelling brain was going at mach speed with mine to envision a tale that would necessitate this poor older man being in such a state. We’d been discussing our faith pretty openly, too, so maybe he needed prayer? Jesus? A glass of water?
He raised his head and looked at each of us. “I had to come over and tell you how much we have enjoyed listening to you laugh. It’s just so good to hear girls your age laughing and talking like you’re doing.”
Relief at him being okay and us not being reprimanded for our volume flooded through me and I saw a grin on Jess’s face that probably mirrored mine. The man went back to his seat and Jess and I continued catching up.
Another 10-15 minutes passed and here came another older gentleman. Again, he stood at the end of our table. This one appeared a bit more gruff…serious look on his face but a twinkle in his eye. Mr. No Nonsense. We ceased our chatter and looked toward him.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, ladies, but I wanted to tell you that I’ve loved listening to you two laugh. To hear your happiness in the room. It’s good to hear laughter again.”
As he went away, that last word echoed in my soul. I turned toward Jess. “Hey, he’s right. When did the laughter die?”
That was three days ago and I’ve since had 14 hours of driving alone in the car to ruminate. I checked with friends of several generations and they echoed the idea – we don’t hear laughter like we did a few years ago. When we do hear it, it’s canned on TV. We walk into restaurants and there isn’t a hum of happy people talking. We walk down streets and see people, but don’t hear joy. A pall has settled on us.
Now, here’s the thing: in the second (maybe third – my memory ain’t what she used to be) year of “Grey’s Anatomy” (this was when “Private Practice” came on after it), I remember Meredith and Christina asking each other if they were happy. In the “Private Practice” episode afterward, the same question arose. I remember wondering why they seemed to be valuing “happiness” as the ultimate life goal…and assuming they’d find it primarily in whomever they slept with.
We hear it everywhere now. Parents just want their children to “be happy”. Spouses leave their spouses because they “just want to be happy” or “deserve some happiness”. Ads and therapists alike hound us women to get manis, pedis, massages, and facials so that we can take care of our “happiness” because, if we don’t, we can’t make anyone else happy.
Good grief, even pet stores are telling us to buy all kinds of toys and treats to make the darn dog happy. (Ours is good if I scratch his ears just-so, which is free, so he gets it a lot.)
Yet, despite all this attention on chasing happiness, it appears that we’ve become a people who smile and laugh less.
I’m pretty sure that’s because we’re worshiping at the altar of self and, ultimately, we make for pretty crappy gods. We’re way too fickle to be masters of the universe.
Today’s “happy” means managing to stay within my calorie allotment. Tomorrow’s is a donut … or two.
I’d love to hear if you’re experiencing this in your neck of the woods. Do you hear people laughing, see them smiling, as much as you did ten years ago? If not, why not?