04-28-2017  10:41 pm      •     
The Wake of Vanport
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It was one of those days. The children were getting on my nerves and I was in the doghouse with my wife. Nothing seemed to be going my way. I was staring at a stack of bills on the desk and yet hadn't heard from my agent in what seemed like months.

I had errands to run, the car was making funny noises and I was sitting in the middle of Los Angeles traffic. I was not looking for a fight; however, if anyone else was, I was more than happy to oblige. It was just one of those days.

My wife describes joy as two steps above happiness and two steps below the divine. I think of it as an elevated state of happiness. Joy is possible even in the midst of tragedy, because it is unencumbered by time or place; it is not dependent on money or power; it is a state of spiritual contentment. While sitting in traffic, I began to crave that contentment. But where does joy live? How do you find it each and every day?

Though it is true that I do not have a "talent for happiness," I certainly do not spend every waking hour with a frown on my face, ready to kick a little tail if provoked. There have been times in my life when I was "two steps below divine." My wedding was one of those times; likewise, watching the birth of my sons. I have also felt joy in much smaller moments: sitting in the grass watching the sunset, walking through the woods and many other seemingly insignificant moments.

There are two things that my joyful moments have in common: A feeling of being grateful and a sense that my life had been called to a deeper purpose.

My minister shared these figures with me to put my blessings in perspective. "If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the world.

"If you have money in the bank, in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8 percent of the world's wealthy. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than 1 million people that will not survive this week.

"If you have never experienced the dangers of battle, the loneliness of prison, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend church without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world."

We can find reasons to be grateful even while sitting in rush hour traffic, but we can't be truly joyful unless our gratitude is expressed in our behavior.

The joy in marriage is not the blessing of companionship, but in that blessing's call to sacrifice. Children are a joy because they demand we discover a more patient and boundless love than we thought possible. Our blessings call us to nurture, protect, encourage and safeguard innocence; to create beauty, to love more deeply and more selflessly than we thought we could; to find the energy and courage to live a life of virtue that will leave the world a little better than when we found it.

I often forget how blessed I am and how many opportunities I have to deepen my human experience. That is the key to joy and it is not so far fetched to believe joy can be a constant in our lives even while having one of those days.

Joseph C. Phillips is an actor/ writer based in Los Angeles.

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