There is a scene from my own life I keep replaying in my head. A gelato truck appears every afternoon at the edge of the park near our house. Even on days that seem just a little too brisk for frozen desserts, the gelato man is there. Children and adults alike gather–sometimes keeping their distance and sometimes not–to exchange Euros from their pockets for an array of sweet treats.
On one of my dozens of walks with Ralph, passing the gelato truck for the thousandth time, I spotted an elderly man stooped over his cane, gripping it tightly. In his other hand he held a cone topped with perfectly swirled vanilla gelato. I noticed he stayed to chat with the gelato man, clearly in no hurry to be anywhere at all. As the sunlight flickered through the trees overhead, he stood on the sidewalk, tilted his head back and laughed.
In the midst of a global pandemic, when children were kept from the nearby playground for weeks on end, when the nursing home residents who live steps from the park could only see visitors from their balconies–their loved ones on the sidewalk looking up and waving–when masks became more common than not, when panic and fear came like a springtime breeze–invisible but relentless,–this frail, vulnerable man ventured to the gelato truck, turned his face to the sky and found joy.
Weeks before lockdown began, when Covid-19 was a nascent, faraway news story, Scott and I listened to a podcast on “delight.” A few of the stories made us roll our eyes, but some of them stuck with me. The episode explored how people find delight in everyday, seemingly mundane things. This wasn’t exactly Scott’s podcast cup of tea (Give him history, politics…), but I was insistent that we keep listening. When they described a woman finding joy in her morning routine, her dog’s wagging tail, the way she felt after a yoga session, I paused the episode and said, “This is it, babe. This is what I do! It’s exactly what I’ve been talking about.”
I think for weeks now, it’s kept me going. Kept me sane. This pursuit of delight, even if it’s often entirely subconscious.
When I come downstairs and see a French press carafe full of black coffee next to a plate of eggs and sausage, my breath catches in my throat. It simply never gets old, both the love of my husband and the daily joy of this ritual. In the afternoons, I love to look out the kitchen window to our patio and watch our flowers and parsley thrive in the slanting sun. When we take our evening walk, I usually tell Scott something like, “When we get home, I’m going to take a hot shower and try my new dark chocolate.” As if it’s some grand plan I suddenly need to share with him. Scott just nods and smiles at the excitement in my voice.
Earlier, I passed a dental office with the most gorgeous pink flowers in bloom. For days I’d been too shy to stop to take a photo of them, but the street was quiet today and I couldn’t resist any longer. The huge blooms were even more beautiful up close. Ralph gazed up at me with confusion as I snapped photos of a stranger’s garden. Hours later, I’m still smiling at the images.
Life isn’t always vanilla gelato and sunshine. Tiny moments of delight can often be overshadowed by stress or worry or grief, as so many of us have experienced in these uncertain months. The human experience usually doesn’t make sense, and it’s often downright unfair.
Yet, there is still joy. This relentless thing called hope. The pervasive belief that we might soon stand on a busy sidewalk, perhaps even with a gelato cone in hand, and belly laugh beneath a blue sky.