A single candle and the glare of my laptop, the only light in my “crawl space” above the book store, glowed with as much intent as myself; both of us laboring through the night to finish my final term paper before winter break. Frosty, my dingy white Persian kitty butted her head against my leg. Looking down, her scowl brought me back to reality of my own growling stomach.
“OK, buddy. Let’s see what I can scrounge up for the two of us.”
Finding a can of tuna, I split it, mine slapped on a stale piece of bread. A bit of tea left at the bottom of the canister, awakened my nostrils. No running water, my showering and personal needs took place at the Y, at school, or if needed, the shop below. I reached around the back of the computer and found one of my favorite things, a glazed teal ceramic mug, hand-crafted by an artisan-hippie girl who caught my eye one day. One of those “True Believer” types, her passionate naivety convinced me to invest in her “save the world” dream. I sat the mug on the warming plate after unscrewing the cap of my almost frozen water bottle. Upon midnight, the clear liquid slowly infused with tea flavoring while scents of cardamom and orange wafted up through my musty space.
Smiling to myself, how ironic, I thought. My psychology paper’s topic talked about masks people wear to conceal the secrets of their past. The strong tea aroma temporarily filled the room with a sweet fragrance, one I rarely experienced in my many harsh days in youth. Hugging the cup of tea with both hands, the night, silent, all but the pa rum-pa-pa-pum hum of the old building’s furnace that did not quite make it up here. My screen stared me down, taunting me to a duel of stamina to finish my paper. Now energized with tea and tuna, the night was young, wholly mine. I resumed to plow through my paper like a sleigh ride through a blizzard, blinded by shear determination to find safe passage through the semester—through my life.
Cold, I shivered; more like a tremble of sleep-deprived loneliness ran down my spine. My paper finished, I loaded it unto my flash drive for printing at school. Frosty, nestled under my desk where a miniscule amount of warmth came up, twitched her whiskers with kitty dreams. The freezing drizzle that began this evening, now decorated the windowpanes with snow crystals and a strange reflection of Christmas lights strung on the deck of Mr. Halls bakery across the street. Glowing silver and gold, majestic, I thought. How many days until Christmas? No returning home this year, the only real home I ever really knew. I thought about my foster parents, Harold and Gloria Littleton. Adopted at age 13 after living most of my life a ward of the state, both lost their life in a car crash last year, another cruel twist in my tragic life. Determined to get an education, at 19 I relied on nobody but me. Christmas, just another mask, another phony gimmick way out of control.
I held the mug to my lips, hoping for one last drop. Tipping the cup up, I saw the letters appliqued on the mug, and then the inscription I never noticed before, on the bottom.
SEEK GOD, FIND JOY
Wow! Another irony. My paper also spoke of my experiences at the Joy Home for Children, where most of my days I spent in survival mode. Hah! —Now I find joy in the bottom of a mug?
The hippie girl, what was her name, Gabriella? (I remembered her name because she also sold angel jewelry). She asked me if I knew joy; thought she was talking about a person. Soon I knew her agenda; getting “religious” on me. She said true joy came from knowing God. Giving me a little pamphlet, I stuffed it somewhere and dropped an extra $2.00 for her cause, grabbing my mug. “Support the arts;” I say, her own creative therapy I surmised. Now this inscription, and these numbers seemed like a clue to a gift I truly wanted, joy. Was this a formula?
I reopened my laptop despite an overwhelming urge to join Frosty in dreamland, Googling the name and numbers. I wondered for a moment what might appear.
“I have told you this so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Suddenly, a memory of a bus, a Bible bus that used to come by the Home. The teachers taught us songs and told stories, stories about God from the Bible. Never gave it much thought until now. “Joyful and triumphant…” a song began to play in my head…weird. I reached over to pull my jacket up and around me, the chill deepening within my bones. Stuffing my hands into the pockets, I pulled out the little book hippie girl gave me. The front cover said, The Gospel of John.
Startled, the web site I clicked on began to play a song. Soft acoustical guitar strings and children’s voices sang a tender song,
“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head…”
My sleepy eyes, so heavy, my heart, truly heavy with so much disappointment, needed joy. My lids closed, my cup of joy close by, I said my first real prayer.
“Jesus or God, I think I’ve talked to you before, not sure. My name is Noel. If you give joy, can you spare some for me? I ‘ve never believed in anything except for myself and some days I’m not too sure of that either. So—wow, this is so weird.”
“Come here ol’ faithful friend,” I said to Frosty. She jumped up on my chest, warm and comfortable. We rested.
Late afternoon the next day, I ran over to the Y. A Salvation Army Santa faithfully ringing his bell, called out to me.
Later that day, I found myself at the park where hippie girl, I mean, Gabriella, hung out.
“Hi, Noel, she said. You’re my first customer today, Merry Christmas Eve. Would you like some tea?”
“Ah, sure, I just happen to have my ‘cup of joy’ with me.”
“Mine never leaves me either”, she said.
“Tell me more about that joy, I asked. I’d like to know what you know.”
A few snowflakes fell, mixed with cold rain, “Hey, come sit under the tarp. Let me move some of these boxes and prepare you room, ” she said.
Glancing down at the boxes, I helped her move a few back under her tent, each box repeating the words “Joy Mugs” labeled on the side. Those words resounded into my head.
She began to tell a familiar story, a story I thought a myth, but this time it was different. I felt her words, like a chisel carving a new heart.
I believed in more than Frosty and me that year. I believed in JOY.
The End (But really, a BEGINNING!)
How many references to a favorite Christmas carol can you find? Spread the Word! Please comment and add your guess. For every new follower and comment, I will add your name to a drawing for your own "Mug of Joy." So, Count your blessings of Joy! Merry Christmas!