I was driving home from Starbucks tonight. My wife is out of town and I’ve been alone with my cat and my dog all weekend; I just needed to get out of the house and Starbucks seemed as good a place as any. So, I’m driving home and I’m passing all of these folks who are walking or running. Some of them have dogs that are taking a dump on the side of the road. The runners seem focused but they’re just running the same route they always run. There’s nothing new. It’s the same monotony every single day. They’re essentially running laps. They might as well have been on a hamster wheel.

The dude with the crapping dog is standing there, holding the leash while his best friend drops a turd in the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the pavement. He’s looking around. I assume he’s just waiting for this shit to be over with and thinking about whether he can get out of there without picking up the dog’s deposit. It’s organic. It’ll decompose.

“Maybe nobody saw me.” He thinks.

We saw you, buddy. We all saw you.

My route home takes me by bars and tattoo parlors and churches. They’ve all got at least one thing in common: they’ll take your money and give you something in return to help you get through the day tomorrow. People go in feeling something and leave feeling something else.

We all just want to be happy.

Life is tough. Unless you’re lucky, you probably feel like you could use a little more money. Maybe a lot more money. But, unless you’re really lucky, you probably never get it or you only get it when it’s too late. Maybe someday you’ll have enough for that romantic getaway but it sure would have been nice to do when you were younger and could really enjoy it. Instead, you had to face a relentless onslaught of bills and circumstances. Family members got sick. You got pregnant when you didn’t expect to. It took forever for you to figure out what you wanted to do with you life and instead of feeling happy you feel like you’re too late. And we’re back to not being able to take that romantic vacation until you get those student loans under control.

All around, you see stories of people who have it better. They have the resources. They have the drive. They’re motivated and focused.

“But I’m pudgy and overcautious,” You say. You’re afraid to take the risk because of that one time you risked before and you got a proverbial slap in the face.

It might be that you’re in this alone. There are all kinds of people around but none of them seem to want to spend any time with you. And why would they? They’re busy running and focusing and dealing with the same crap that everyone else deals with. They’ve got stuff in their place that they need to do things with.

Why would they want to take a night away from their lives to spend it with you?

For some God-forsaken reason, though, people keep going. Even though they could get miles away, the runners most often turn around and head home. The people in the pews and on the barstools eventually head back to their families. The guy walking his dog brings him home and gives him a treat for being a good boy.

Sometimes I feel like i want to run or drink myself into a daze. Sometimes I just want to leave the shit where it is and walk away.

What if I did?

Where could I go to escape? What would life be like when I eventually came to my sense? How long until I eventually stepped directly in what I had hoped to avoid?

To be human is to experience pain. It is to feel insignificant. Worthless. Friendless. Hopeless.

That joy, though.

There are times when the world starts to brighten. Even though there are clouds still overhead, it feels brighter — like something is about to give.

This is joy.

What kind of powerful, transformational force is joy that it can look into the face of pain so that pain melts away like an ice cube on a hot sidewalk? How powerful is that embrace that it can obliterate the feelings of self-doubt and discouragement with one gentle squeeze? Joy is intoxicating and numbs us from the tyranny of the day to day.

It isn’t always in great supply — sometimes it’s hard to find than others.

Joy gives respite from the pain. It enlarges us so that, for a moment in time, we are the center of the universe. Joy brings our attention to all that’s right in the world and begins to replicate itself.

Joy is both nonsensical and true.

Sometimes every force in the universe seems compelled to keep you from smiling. And yet you do. When you see her face or feel that touch or hear those words the joy that is in you bursts out in laughter and love.

So continue to run, and drink, and bring fido to the sidewalk to do his business. This is life and life cannot be avoided.

But this is not what life is about.