Thich and Tom
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” He read it over again. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” It was a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh written on a sticky-note which had been stuck to his laptop for years. Maybe Thich Nhat Hanh actually said it. Maybe it was Bugs Bunny. Who knows? It really didn’t matter. The quote meant something to him.
His mother had named him Asa, good Jewish name meaning “healer.” Asa never knew why she chose the name, but he liked it. Just weird enough, but nothing you could really make fun of. He had always been the only Asa in his class and that somehow made him feel special.
When he was growing up, his mother would write little inspirational notes and leave them around the house: in his room, the bathroom, the kitchen and every now and then slipped into his school backpack. Not all of his mother’s notes were profound or even worth remembering. But he came to realize that when you see the same quote day after day, the message gets the chance to boogie through your brain and take on new meaning. And when that happened – as it often did – he would muse on the possibility that the message hadn’t changed, so he must have.
His mother had been an off-and-on Jew: usually celebrated Passover and Chanukah but never kept kosher. In fact, one of her favorite dishes was roast pork. With a side of shrimp cocktail. She would even serve it on Chanukah, always reminding guests, “God is forgiving.” But, enough religious tradition had been lathered on her as a child that she couldn’t help but leave little religious sayings from time to time, whether they came from Moses or Mother Teresa. Or the Dalai Lama. Or Thich Nhat Hanh.
Asa, the healer, was now 32 years old and his mother was gone. A fast-moving cancer had taken her away 5 years ago and his name had not proved to be much help. But he still had several of her notes tucked away. And now, they were more valuable than ever. Especially this one – the one stuck next to the keyboard on his laptop.
He had recently broken up with his girlfriend. Both of them knew it was coming, but after three years as a couple, including two together in the Peace Corps, knowing didn’t make it any easier. During their time overseas, he was pretty certain he wanted to marry her; and they had seriously contemplated it, especially when there was a bit of wine or marijuana in play. But, when they got back to the States, marriage just didn’t seem right.
It was now almost 11:30 at night. He had to be at work at 8:00 tomorrow, but had wanted to download some Tom Waits tunes on his laptop before he went to bed. And maybe it was the hour, maybe it was the earlier whiskey, maybe it was Tom Waits’ mournful raspiness, but an out-of-the-blue shroud of the blues suddenly enveloped him. And he missed his girlfriend and he missed his mother and he missed the Peace Corps and he missed pork-roast Chanukah.
He took a deep breath and exhaled a whispered, “Dammit.” But just as he was closing his computer, he saw his mom’s Thich quote: Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. He closed the computer and pasted a most unconvincing smile on his face. “OK, Mom,” he said. “Let’s see if it works.”
By the time he drifted off, it hadn’t. A glacier of gloom still crushed his heart. However, he did have some rather fine dreams, which included Thich Nhat Hanh dancing naked wearing nothing but sticky notes on his nipples and butt. By morning, the glacier had melted and to the croon of a Tom Waits tune, he, himself, danced naked to the shower where he determined that the day must not end without some roast pork and shrimp.