The first weekend of January 2024 was interesting, in a microcosm sort of way. There were two different but strangely related situations.
I’ll start with the second one first because it’s shorter due to it not being a story I want to tell publicly in detail because people I know are involved.
Suffice it to say that there are people in the world who make choices, or have choices thrust upon them, that lead to lives that I’m grateful I do not live. Drugs, violence, and related unpleasantness filled a story a friend told me. In the midst of my gratitude is a certain amount of judgment, I suppose, but I’m working toward compassion. As I say, it’s hard to tell how many choices are actively made and how many choices are thrust upon them.
But the day before — Epiphany, in fact — I was taking one of my regular walks at Memorial Park here in Houston. It was a gorgeous day for January. It was sunny but cool enough for an extra layer of clothes, if just barely. There were runners who were dressed as if it were summertime.
At one point a man, maybe 30ish, and a little girl, I’d guess around eight years old, ran by me. They were apparently racing someone behind us, because the girl looked behind her and said, “Hurry, they’re right there!” They were clearly enjoying themselves even if the little girl was very serious in the fashion children are serious about their play. I found myself grinning broadly as I watched them.
A few steps farther along, I realized I was delighting in the interaction between these two humans, presumably father and daughter (but maybe not). I was happy for the fun they were having. It struck me that I was taking delight in someone else’s life — the glimpse I had of their lives, anyway — but I was not wanting to have their lives. It felt like a revelation that this was even possible.
I could delight in someone else’s life without wanting their life.
I think there was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to do that. Is it possible that at the age of 60, I’m still capable of growth?
Mind you, I’m not here to brag. There are certainly people whose lives I definitely would like to try on. There are lives I would have liked to have lived but never figured out how.
Some of that is due to growing up rural with aspirations that were, for lack of a better term, more urban. At the very least, I grew up without immediate role models to help or guide me. Some of it is due to being queer — an identity that, 30 years after accepting my queerness, I’m still navigating in new and surprising (to me) ways. I have lived at this intersection of class and sexuality for a long time and have blamed both, fairly or not, for derailments in my life
And who knows? Maybe I was just in a good mood on Saturday. Maybe the sunshine and some progress made on a personal project had me feeling secure in my own skin. I know from experience how slippery this security can be.
Having experienced this particular delight, however, I’m thinking about how to make it a practice. How do I watch for other’s happiness and not resent it or envy it? It seems as if it should be easier than it sometimes has been. It’s certainly easier when I see someone’s life I quite easily don’t want to live. It’s harder when I see someone living the life I’d rather be living myself.
But baby steps. I believe in a God who takes delight in us, I will count this new revelation (an actual Epiphany epiphany!) as a goal to love my neighbor and take delight in them as I’m sure God does.
A writer in Houston, Texas, whose work has appeared in a number of small press journals and anthologies, Neil Ellis Orts occasionally writes articles on the arts. His novella, Cary and John, is available from Wipf & Stock Publishers.