“The ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not: Have you found joy in your life? Has your life brought joy to others?”
The Bucket List
In Judaism, joy (simcha) is a religious obligation. In Psalm 100:2, King David instructs Jews to “Serve G-d with joy.” The Jewish tradition recognizes that joy is a powerful pathway to the divine; as such, we have a responsibility to cultivate joy in all of our daily affairs. “If tears open up the [heavenly] gates, joy absolutely demolishes them,” according to Rabbi Yaakov Yosef.
There’s a paradox, however, about being commanded to be joyful. Just as one cannot force gratitude, love, or sleep, joy is not something that one can muster at will. It comes spontaneously, often unexpectedly. Yet there are certain experiences that can open us more to impromptu bubblings of joy.
I can’t think of a more powerful gateway to joy than Gabriel. He has brought a level of sustained, daily joy to our lives that I couldn’t have imagined before he arrived. Perhaps it’s his pre-linguistic, pre-conceptual innocence. Or perhaps he brings us such joy because he reminds us of the uncorrupted, pure Buddha/Godly nature that we have forgotten.
Whenever we discover something truly beautiful, I think the natural response is to want to share it with as many people as possible. Seeing as Gabriel is the greatest gift that we have been blessed with, we set out two and a half months ago to share him with as many others as possible.
I expected that grandparents and relatives would fawn over Gabriel. Less anticipated, however, are the countless strangers from Colorado to Paris to Rome who have approached us with smiles beaming across their faces, eager to meet the unsuspecting star of the show.
We’re now in Thailand, and on the plane here, the Qatar airways flight attendants alternated taking short breaks to play with him, while their colleagues continued to make coffee and pick up trash.
When we arrived at our guesthouse in Chiang Mai, we didn’t even get our luggage in the room before our hostess giddily took him from our arms, called her girlfriends, and commenced to play with him for an hour.
The next day, when he and Giulia went out for a walk, a monk saw Giulia covering his head with her hands to shield him from the sun (we forgot his sun hat), and just offered her his umbrella.
And today, he met a beautiful Thai baby (younger by two weeks) that we think might become his first girlfriend.
There’s something about babies that softens people and breaks down the barriers that we otherwise hold between us, allowing joy to bubble up. Travelling tends to do this anyway, but taking a baby on the road has allowed us to connect immediately and directly with people’s hearts.
It occurred to me that maybe the whole purpose behind our trip is not for Giulia to continue her massage training (as she’s doing now), or for me to have time to write about metaphors, or to stretch our money as long as possible out by living in an inexpensive tropical country.
Instead, I’ve come to think that the primary reason for our travels is to give Gabriel the chance to bring joy to the people we meet. I see him as an inadvertent ambassador; Giulia and I are merely his entourage.
Instead of seeing ourselves as the parents who made decisions for our child, perhaps we are the tools through which the universe is working to bring warmth, tenderness and joy to people’s hearts. Perhaps these photos and stories are a way of doing that with even those we cannot physically be with.
If just seeing Gabriel is a way for people to tap into joy, even just for a moment, then we have succeeded in our ‘work.’ And if bringing joy to others is the primary purpose of the trip, then anything else that happens along the way (beaches, good food, etc.) is just a bonus.
This needn’t stop when our travels do. Why not adopt this attitude not just with Gabriel on the road, but as the Jewish tradition suggests, with every other aspect of life as well? Instead of making wealth the primary aim of work, why not see it as an opportunity to bring joy in whatever way we can to others?
Naturally, this is a very difficult outlook to cultivate and maintain. But I feel the more I’m open to the innocence I see in Gabriel, the softer and more open I become with others. This is why Hasidic Jews say it has the power to “break through all boundaries and constrictions”… perhaps even plastic cups.