By Samir Shukla
On a recent fall day, while pondering my place in the grand cosmos, sitting outside a fast-food joint munching on hot French Fries, I started thinking about the philosophical nature, the simple goodness and multi-purpose usage of that all-American vegetable. Ketchup. The ultimate flexible condiment. It goes with anything. We eat it with our sandwiches and fries and countless other foods as well as with some of our favorite Indian dishes. It is chutney when chutney is missing. Dip a piece of hot onion naan or dhokla or a samosa into ketchup and plop it into your mouth. The stars will look brighter.
Ketchup is among life’s simple joys. Such joys – certain basic foods, the genuine belly laugh of a friend, a lost happy memory that inexplicably pops back in your head, such joys color daily living. There are myriad such simple joys awaiting capture.
A childhood wooden toy forgotten in a closet or attic, when found and held for a few moments, it replays those carefree days in brilliant technicolor. The simple joy of that old, static toy is incalculable, surpassing any multimedia tech gadget that is readily replaced for the latest version or gizmo.
That stop you make to catch your breath during a run, standing by a particularly lovely tree. In that moment you are not thinking about your run or your health, looking at your Fit Bit for the number of steps you’ve taken or miles you’ve run, but instead that pause while just observing the majesty of that tree is the release of a deeper breath. It is invigorating as that run. That is a simple joy.
Chatting with a toddler who is just mumbling words, garbled yet full of bright eyed, curious wisdom. Suddenly, the whole of future, which seemed grim a minute earlier, looks brighter. This is a simple joy.
Stuck in rush hour traffic with body tense, mind steaming? Pull over on the side or a parking lot for a moment. That late afternoon drive will turn into a purple, yellow and red twilight dancing in the sky. Take it in, feel looser, and then hit the road again. That is a simple joy.
These simple joys of life so often pass us by in the daily grind. They also get slapped aside during our quests for grand meanings of our existences. Most of us are joyful creatures and simply need to find joyful pauses, between the noise and dissonance. We become philosophical when we have the leisure time to think of such matters. Many don’t have that luxury and are forced to move through life like so many pawns in a giant chess match, simply surviving. I have noticed that people with physical limitations, few means or limited economic access, seem to find many simple joys in their lives. They must or else life becomes unbearable. Those moments are completely theirs, owned, dictated, or regulated by none.
We all do what we must. The routine laboring, the worrying, the working, the balancing. The daily churn of making decisions, we mull them over and over, but once made, execute them, and don’t look back. That somber feeling, ‘Oh, if I had done this or if I had done that…’ Let it pass and do something simple, even childlike. A happier feeling will arrive.
In stress-filled moments, especially in stress-filled moments, a momentary recollection of that childhood toy, that dancing twilight, that happily mumbling toddler, can help unravel the cobwebs of confusion. Some of the stress will dissolve, clarity will shine. Simplify it.
As another year flips over to the other side, the rapidity of time passing by like a whirlwind, the usual bits of time passage, thinning hair, squeaking bones, another step closer to the ultimate end, they all inevitably increase, but just step off the treadmill for a moment and dig up simple joys that are your own. That resolution isn’t only for a new year day, but any day of the year.
When all else fails, just put a little ketchup on it and all will be well.