There I was on a beautiful Sunday morning, sitting in church and only halfway listening as Pastor Merritt talked about finding joy in our everyday lives. A nice idea, sure, but according to the mental list I was making, I would have to schedule joy for another day. I just had too much to do.
There was laundry and cleaning house and oh yeah, the fridge was looking pretty empty. Better hit Trader Joe's. And then my brain fast-forwarded to Monday and I started thinking about my work projects. There was the program guide to edit, the newsletter to write, and copy for that new direct mail piece was due. Maybe after I completed my home errands, I'd log on the computer and get a jump on tomorrow's tasks.
But first, on my way home, I stopped at Borders to use the gift certificate that was burning a hole in my pocket. And that's when I came upon an unexpected snippet of joy: a CD reminiscent of my childhood—the definitive collection of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.
In the 60s, when my younger sister, Jenny, and I were pig-tailed tykes, the tunes of trumpeter Herb Alpert played constantly in our home. Our prepubescent tastes leaned towards The Monkees, but with just one record player in the house, our parents usually had the final say. In spite of my youthful preferences, Herb Alpert still managed to infiltrate my brain because as a young adult, two of my favorite bands were those with strong horn sections: Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago. And always, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.
It would be nice revisiting these lost songs from my childhood, many for the first time in decades. Initially, I thought the music would provide nothing more than a nostalgic diversion as I swept the floors, folded laundry, and paid bills. What I wasn't expecting was the explosive burst of memories triggered by songs I had long since forgotten.
With just the first few notes of "The Lonely Bull," I suddenly found myself smack back in my childhood home, a humble little duplex in Redwood City, California. I could practically inhale the spicy perfume of freshly cut carnations wafting from the hothouse nurseries across the street from our house. I could feel the heat rising from the asphalt on sizzling summer days as Jenny and I donned our swimsuits and pranced in the water that spurted from the snaking garden hose on our driveway. I could hear dad snoring on his recliner and see mom salsa dancing in the kitchen while Herb blared away on the turntable.
A few songs I remembered as background music on TV commercials and shows. "The Mexican Shuffle" provided an instant flashback for a chewing gum commercial and another song, "Whipped Cream" was used in that old TV show, "The Dating Game," as contestants were being introduced. I recalled the soothing scent of spray starch commingled with steam as mom ironed while we watched aspiring lovebirds hoping to make a connection. I recognized "Lollypops and Roses" as another tune that played at the end of the show while contestants learned about their prize, usually a trip to someplace like San Diego or Disneyland. That memory evoked my own childhood dream of getting married one day—something that hasn't happened. And yet, I've lived a happy life, even if it hasn't turned out quite the way I envisioned.
Each song reminded me of simpler times, when weekends weren't so hurried and demanding. There were no computers, cell phones, iPods or BlackBerrys to distract, interrupt, isolate, or intrude. There weren't a thousand TV channels to mindlessly surf through. Back then there were just a few, maybe five or six. And if there wasn't anything interesting to watch, we'd turn off the TV and visit friends. Play games, read books or pursue hobbies. We'd relax and listen to the radio. Or albums. Like Herb.
Ah, but that was then. With today's frenzied pace, every spare moment is utilized to meet pressing demands and high expectations, I could only hope to enjoy snippets of Herb squeezed in between the hum of the vacuum cleaner or din of the dishwasher. Maybe while I finished reports, cleaned the birdcage, organized files, or checked emails.
Then I wondered…in 20 or 30 years would these be the memories evoked by my favorite songs today? In the not-too-distant future, when I popped in an old CD by Rufus Wainwright or Elvis Costello, would their music summon fond mental snapshots of playing Scrabble with my niece, Meggie? Would I remember laughing over a plate of nachos with my best friend, Pam, or savoring the solitude of scrapbooking with my beloved dog, Elvis, at my feet? I knew the answer. Life today deemed that every little action have a definitive goal, objective, purpose. I had become too ensconced in the quagmire of life to find time for simple pleasures anymore.
Suddenly, tackling that mental list I made at church didn't feel so urgent. Instead, I took out my grandma's green Fiesta Ware mixing bowl, the one that reminds me of her. Baking sounded better. Maybe chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal. Afterwards, I'd stretch across the sofa and bask in a pool of sunshine while reading the Sunday paper from start to finish, with my dog by my side and Herb on the stereo.
And on this simple, ordinary day, I found joy.