Joy of the Day 3/365 is in the form of a fan letter.
I’m a random person who you don’t know (although I’m also a former member of Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple, and it appears we have a few mutual acquaintances through this). I have recently invented something called “Joy of the Day,” which involves routinely making upbeat posts on social media. It’s nothing special, but today's thing happened to involve something you said—and since this is actually something of a recurring joy of several years, I thought I’d send you a quick fan letter about it.
In 2013, you were in the “People Issue” of the Chicago Reader, which was super cool. Among the insights you shared, there was this comment about serenading former First Lady Barbara Bush: “As a means of accumulating bizarre experiences, I’m superfortunate to have been a part of that."
Somehow this sentence stuck in my head verbatim. I've often thought of it since.
For the past few years, I’ve been a journalist. I moved into the field while completing a Fulbright in Bangladesh, and have since reported from India, Nepal, Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya (plus the US). In the same span, I got a certification from a Harvard program held in a castle in Italy. It’s been a lot of time on the road, is what I’m saying, in some fairly unusual circumstances.
That sentence comes in handy more than you might guess.
An example: A couple years back, I was traveling through Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire, by bus. We turned down a road away from the town center, passed a few fields, and then -- as though a mirage had appeared in the shimmering blue sky -- there was a true-to-life, full-size replica of St. Peter's Basilica. It was just like the original one in the Vatican, and it was here, on the outskirts of this little-known small West African city, across the street from teenagers herding cows in an empty field.
It turns out it was erected by now-deceased Ivorian dictator Félix Houphouët-Boigny in the late 1980s. It's actually the largest church in the world (St. Peter's Basilica? Now second place). Apparently Félix Houphouët-Boigny was essentially the Trump of his country and era. Despite its religious qualities, the basilica was sort of his monument to himself -- and he went out of his way to include a few ostentatious, self-promotional bits, too. Apparently inside there's a stained glass window that depicts Houphouët-Boigny right next to Jesus Christ.
I didn’t stop to go in (actually, my time in Italy later on didn’t include a visit to the original, either), but it's easy to see that, as a means of accumulating bizarre experiences, I’m superfortunate to have been a part of that bus ride.
Actually, there are a lot more strange things that I’m superfortunate to have been a part of. Traveling the world doing unstable work will do that to a person.
As you might guess, this sort of thing, while amusing from moment to moment, can also get tiresome in the long run. When I think about it, it strikes me that framing my odd encounters as “superfortunate” -- and the persistence with which I recall that phrase -- is like a little spiritual gift. It’s good for gratitude, which is good for resilience and fortitude.
For all its awkward phrasing, it's become one of my favorite sentences ever. And that makes it meta, because I'm lucky to have read it.