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Joy! Joy! Joy!

ladyBy Karen Williams

Tis the season to be…

Joyful? Just how am I supposed to do that? Or be that? What is joy anyway?

I have to admit that I am happy when I get the things I want, or get to be with someone with whom I want to share my time and energy. I feel rapture when I have a new love or get another car. (I’ve had 47 of them and I still get excited!) I can even feel ecstasy when more money mystically falls into my lap. But joy…that’s an elusive one and I have finally figured out why.

True joy has nothing to do with me and my wants and needs or desires. I get to experience joy when I do something for someone else without any expectation of something in return. It really is that simple. Yet giving without expecting to receive is challenging to our lesser ego, the part of ourselves that seeks validation and is crushed when we don’t get it.

I was asked by a dear friend to accompany her to a church this Thanksgiving to serve meals. I did not know what to expect. However, I was very excited because I’ve never done anything like this before. Tables were neatly arranged to seat six and were covered with colorful cloths with autumnal centerpieces featuring small pumpkins and gourds. Volunteers were assigned to teams of order takers, runners, and servers, with four tables given to each team. I decided to be a server, which gave me the opportunity to assist the order takers by getting plates of food and bringing them to the tables. I also got to meet and greet folks, and pay close attention to their needs.

Deeply touched by the generosity of spirit and love that permeated the dining room, I immersed myself in the environment…listening, sharing, encouraging, laughing. There was plenty of food and the server crew packed up bundles of take-away packages for those present and for shut-ins who were unable to take part in the Thanksgiving meal. And what a delicious meal it was! Roasted turkey with all the fixings, green beans, beets, mashed and sweet potatoes, and a special dessert of pumpkin pie and whipped cream. One little fellow put so much whipped cream in his cup of hot chocolate that he could only manage a bite or two of dinner. Along with his packaged meal, I sent him home with an extra packet of cocoa. The big smile he gave me warmed my heart.

Although I was not with my biological family members this holiday, I can honestly say that I felt like a part of a bigger family this time. At one point, I felt like I was serving at a fine restaurant with the warmest, kindest, most grateful clientele ever. When I looked around the room, I experienced deep stirrings of gratitude and joy, empathy and compassion.

These people are me. I have felt alone or like no one cared about me. I’ve had hard times and somehow made it through. Although I’d thought that I was there to do something for someone, everyone in that room helped me feel a little more connected to them and to that universal spirit that connects all of us.

So the next time I want to feel joy, I know what to do: I plan to step out of myself and do something for someone else, just because it feels so good! In fact, I know where I’ll be this Christmas Eve!

Karen Williams lives to create more joy in the world. Enjoy life with her. karen@sfbaytimes.com.