The transformation of JOY

It was the best white elephant holiday gift in the room, with one "steal" left. A metal sign that lit up - JOY. As I moved in for the grab, I started to feel bad...Robbing someone of their JOY wasn't congruent with the holiday spirit. Sensing my hesitancy, the gift holder offered reassurance.

"I don't mind if you steal my JOY. But if you do, you have to take it back East with you on your trip."

That was a small price to pay. I liked the idea of a whimsical adventure - my version of the Travelocity gnome. Deal. I grabbed the gift, and a glass of champagne to toast my newly acquired JOY.

Packing night came. My suitcase bulged with sweaters, down vests, snow boots and gifts. I looked at JOY. It was bigger than I remembered. Kinda bulky. "Am I going through with this? Really?" Ack! "Do what you say," I always say. So, I stuffed JOY into a red pouch, and crammed it into the last empty compartment of my backpack. "So much for traveling light," I thought. "I hope I can get JOY through TSA security..."

5:20 a.m. Southwest airlines Gate 2, SAN. Photo time. I wrenched JOY from it's pouch. Started taking photos. The couple next to me paused their serious conversation and smiled through morning sleepiness. I shared details of JOY's upcoming pilgrimage. Holiday conversation migrated to new cars, and our morning flight. They hadn't checked in on time, and were sentenced with boarding spots C39 and C40. Guaranteed middle seats, last row.

Sensing they had something they needed to discuss on the plane, I decided to save them seats. With an A10 boarding spot, I was rewarded with an exit row, and also a few scowls for "saving." As they slowly made their way down the aisle, scanning for the last two seats, I wildly waved my arms. "Here are your seats!" They were stunned. "Can we buy you a drink?" i declined their offer to buy a drink (it was 6 a.m.!) "Guess it's my job to spread JOY,," I thought, as I dozed off before takeoff.

Denver layover. A screeching announcement braced us for nearly a two hour layover. Dog owners went shuffling away in search of the pet relief area. I heard muttering coming from the silhouette of a large man, shapeless under a grey hoodie. "HERE we go again..." he loudly groused to himself.

Seems like a job for JOY. I changed seats, pried out JOY, and started a photo session. "Hmm," he said, watching in amusement as a gentle smile flashed across his eyes. A conversation that began slowly eventually spanned the entire delay. Shared stories of "grand-babies," friends in far places. Of recent loved ones lost. He offered to buy coffee, I accepted. We boarded and sat in different rows, but migrated together at for one last "Merry Christmas" at baggage claim.

The Southwest Airlines flight staff was 100% in on spreading JOY. Fun pictures, laughter, extra snacks. We all agreed this was the best white elephant gift ever, and shared some of the worst (fancy laundry gloves).

My seatmate was also on a holiday journey to forget a recent loss. We discussed future plans. Dream places to retire. After her long release, she realized that Boise was where her heart was. She sold vitamins and cosmetics, and gave me a lip balm in appreciation for our time together.

Initially, I thought I was "taking JOY" on my trip. Once I made the shift to "spreading JOY" my experience shifted entirely.

People are hungry for the opportunity to connect, converse and share. My courage to be a little silly broke down the barriers of hiding in the electronic other-world. Wherever JOY was spread, something was always offered in return.

Spread JOY. It comes back to you. What would have been a holiday hassle-story became a journey of true...JOY.