Volume 21, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 20 - 26, 2009
The answer my friend is positively on 4th Street
By Wickham Boyle
As I was riding home, down Broadway last week in the bright winter sunshine, I attempted to boost my spirits by taking some solace in my health, family and general robust nature. You see I had just had a dispiriting job interview. I am not alone, but that does not necessarily make things better. It does make them different. Sometimes the fact that we are all in it together, mounts arguments that soothe sometimes, and at other times it exacerbates the fear that I — that none of us will ever find gainful employment again.
I know that I am in a much better place than many of my fellow citizens and yet whatever challenges we face as a nation, we also face personal demons a plenty. I have an ability to go to what my son called, when he was little, “The Dark Place.” This mythical kingdom needs no introduction, for whether we have named it or not, all of us have visited there. Some of us have taken up summer residence or gotten graduate degrees there. It is the place where we can’t get out of our own way, where we are afraid and can’t find a hand to hold, or a cat to pet. And so we simmer and stew in our own private negative juices.
And certainly the current ingredients for the “Dark Place” abound: war, unemployment, debt, bad choices, a lasting legacy of privation for our children and a fear that accompanies even one of these, let alone the concatenation that is in full bloom. But then there are the antidotes to doom.
The antidotes are so simple, so unbidden, free and surprising that they take my breath away. They are friendship, laughter, kisses in corners, questions, conversation, music, dappled sunshine, home cooked meals, gleeful kids, crazy cats and the magic of everyday. Oh everyone’s list varies — this is a quick fix mediation for me, but add to that list serendipity.
And so as I peddled my 1968 Raleigh bike down Broadway from the Upper East Side to the Downtown neighborhoods I love, I chanced a glance at the red stone wall at 707 Broadway just above Fourth St. and there it was. Chalked in a neat hand were the words “Donate Joy.” I rode past.
No, I couldn’t ignore this universe message; I wheeled my bike around and pushed it against traffic and up onto the sidewalk. I stood in front of the message — OK I know it is graffiti, but it changed my mind set as clearly as if someone had shot a personal remote control at my gloom. I was on a new channel. I took out my little camera and click, I saved the image and the sentiment.
I have been thinking about what it means to “Donate Joy.” I attempt to offer smiles to folks on the street, I compliment women on lavish hats, I stop and help mothers with strollers, I make crying babies laugh, I hold doors, I proffer help, but is that joy? How can I donate joy? Do we donate joy when we don’t participate in passing along gossip, or hatred or fear or racism? Do we donate joy when we really laugh with our friends and children and not at them? I am still on a path to figure out, not what joy is, because I have the essence of joy sewn to me like a second shadow, but how do I donate it or pass it along?
I have been detouring and riding past the scrawling every chance I get. I know it won’t last forever.
After-all it is chalk on stone in a wintery city full of rain and university cleaners. And joy is ephemeral, it can’t be held on our hands or put into a box, so we have to pass it along quickly before it dissolves.
Wickham Boyle is a freelance writer living in Tribeca.