This essay originally aired on Feb. 1, 2018.
I believe in the small joy of washing with carrot-ginger soap.
I believe in baking five-grain rye bread with cracked rye berries, naturally leavened with sourdough and baked on a hot stone. Taking baths in the dark with candlelight. Canning dill green beans and pickling beets.
I believe in picnicking by wooded streams while waiting for my wife and friends to finish hiking, which I don’t believe in.
I believe in the small joy of tapping maple sugar trees and boiling the sap down into syrup. Garnishing Manhattan clam chowder with little shrimp. Worshipping homegrown tomatoes. Using Scooby Doo Band-Aids.
I believe in the joy of a small glass of high-end wine over two glasses of mid-level wine.
I believe in beer that has more hops and less alcohol.
I would believe in leather car seats, but they’re too expensive.
I do believe the small joys are more than enough to endure life’s constant, inevitable smacks in the face. But I have been learning to believe that paying mindful attention to whoever is in the same room as you is the one deep, authentic joy.
When you are mindfully attentive to the other person in the room, you experience the deep joy of not feeling alone—the joy of being truly connected. Mindful attention senses their story is no less important than your story. Understanding their values and political tendencies come from their past influences, just like yours comes from your past (not a place of more righteousness). Reminding yourself their heart yearns as your heart yearns. Their hugs are as tender as yours. Their losses hurt as much as yours.
That you will have as many regrets as them. That their worth to be heard is no less pressing than yours. That their one-dollar bill is as important to them as your twenty-dollar bill is to you. That they are trying to love their kid the best they can, even if they come up short. Mindful attentiveness is understanding they may be less or more evolved than you, but they are following the same path towards a more compassionate, less egocentric state.
When you are listening even somewhat empathetically, you are giving them—and yourself—a gift. They are receiving your love and attention. They are connecting you to all humanity, breaking down your psychological walls of separation. And you are receiving the deep comfort of being at home in your own skin.
The little joys are enough to keep struggling. But I believe the one deep joy, connecting with others through mindful attentiveness, is the grace of a life well lived.
Michael Goldfine is an English teacher at the State College Area High School.