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The Happiest Employee on Earth

March 4, 2013

Picture 010There’s a bright yellow band of construction tape blocking the administrative entrance to my company’s main building. Apparently there are a set of killer icicles hanging from the roofline forty feet above, threatening to bludgeon some poor, unassuming office workers arriving to work.

That wouldn’t be pretty. In any case, I had to go around and use the main entrance to the manufacturing plant.

I sighed deeply at the thought of walking an extra twenty yards out of my way.

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon, and most of the first shift had already left for the day, leaving a few workers still milling around outside the plant entrance chatting on their cell phones, leaning against the wall, waiting around for their rides to show  up. The gray sky had started to snow again – this time a soft, light sprinkling of giant sugar crystals. The news called it a “dusting,” which made it sound pretty and mythical, like we were in the land of faeries and elves rather than the gritty tableau of exhausted hourlies coming off of their eight-hour shift, now facing a potential driving hazard.

We all kept glancing up to the heavens, blinking at the thought of more snow tonight.

As I approached the lobby entrance, I noticed someone right smack in the middle of the entryway making odd, jagged movements with his body.

I squinted my eyes, to see if everything was all right.

It was an employee, dancing. Right there in the middle of the walkway, right in front of all those parked cars and every passerby. He was all by himself, dancing.

It was Donny.

Donny has a mild form of Downs Syndrome. He has worked here probably for 20 years, since he was a teenager. His job is doing routine maintenance stuff around the plant: taking out the trash, replacing things, odd jobs and the like. He’s good at it – very conscientious, dependable, friendly, and, most of all, he’s happy.

Over the years Donny has become a fixture at our company. He lives at home with his mom and dad, and usually rides his bike to work. I often see him riding, his Phillies cap pulled tight and low over his head, eyes straight ahead, fixed on the road. He’s very careful.

But today it was snowing, again, so I guess his bike couldn’t make it through the snow and ice, and, like the other stragglers, he was waiting for his ride home.

But instead of just leaning against the wall with a blank stare, he decided he should start dancing. His feet jiggered this way and that as he hopped up and down, bouncing slowly to the rhythm he made up in his head.

Two Hispanic guys in a white pick up truck pulled up next to him and rolled down the windows. There was some salsa music playing on the car radio, and they turned it up loud. Then they sat there, watching Donny dance to their instant soundtrack.

“I’m doing a snow dance!” Donny shouted to no one in particular, his arms flailing every which way and his face pointed straight up to the sky. His eyes were shut tight and a brilliant smile crossed his face.

I walked past him and smiled, but he didn’t see me. He was too busy dancing, caught up in the movement of his body, feeling the sensation of the cold flakes falling onto his eyes, the raw beauty of the chill on his face.

I reached for the main entrance doorway, and I heard him shout again,

“I’m doing a snow dance!”

Before I heaved open the door, I turned back again to get just one more glimpse of him dancing. I felt a pang of – I don’t know. Something. Sadness? Compassion? Jealousy? The thought crossed my mind, surely, that he must know something that I don’t.

He is the happiest employee I’ve ever seen.

What must it be like to be so uninhibited, to be so happy just because it’s snowing and you finished up another good day of work? I can hardly make it through a single day without worrying what someone thinks about me. I am usually so consumed with my petty worries and projects and meetings that I barely even notice the sky. Except to complain about it.

Walking down the hall to the conference room, I knew the answer to that question. You would laugh. You would dance. You would turn your face to the sky with a brilliant smile.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2013 6:32 am

    I completely enjoyed your article. I worked with children and youth with disabilities for a few years and they kept me in perspective when complained about life. They can be happy from within… without any reason. Yes, I too feel jealous sometimes – it is what we are all striving to do!

  2. March 4, 2013 7:24 am

    We are our own worst enemy in this, aren’t we? It’s crazy how we have a choice between free and happy or caring what others think of us and we choose the latter. Excellent article, Jim.

  3. Sally Warner permalink
    March 4, 2013 8:27 am

    This brought back a memory. It’s 1979 and there is a whole group of us at Disney World. We are waiting in a very long snaking line to get onto the Small World ride. You and Dan decide we should lead a sing along with the whole bored crowd of strangers, divide them into 2 groups and started everyone singing “Swing Low”, “When the Saints Go Marching in”, or “I’m Gonna Sing, Sing Sing”. You also spontaneously start the dancing when we pass small live band playing on the streets. I can understand you being jealous of Donny. You’ve got that inside you too. When did we become so inhibited? When we became dignified? Maybe next time you can use the “Donny”s God has blessed us with as an opportunity for a “happy dance” and join in, even if only because he is happy and you want to celebrate that.

    • March 4, 2013 8:26 pm

      Sally, I am so glad you remember this, because I don’t! Is that a bad sign? (vague memories, is all). Although I know I was much more uninhibited when I was 19 years old, as you can attest. But I was also craving attention at that age, so it cuts both ways.
      Yes, trying to be “dignified” can cost us some freedom. You’d think at my age I’d have it all figured out by now. But I don’t. It’s worth thinking about.

  4. March 4, 2013 12:16 pm

    When I was a young teen in Michigan, my friends and I loved to dance in the first snows of winter. When I see the opening of the movie, “Sound of Music,” it reminds me of the way we would twirl, raise our arms and faces to the snowy sky and express our joy in song. My dancing days are over, but my heart still dances when snow is falling, and I get my joy in the goodness of the Lord, and in watching my great-grandchildren enjoying the snow and life in general.

  5. March 4, 2013 12:49 pm

    I do love this story. Uninhibited joy. Have I ever — even once — exhibited such a thing?

    • March 4, 2013 8:27 pm

      David, I have a feeling that you have, based on some of my interactions with you (disco parties and such at LL?:) You know how to let loose, my friend.

  6. March 4, 2013 2:12 pm

    This reminds me of a recent radiolab episode on Bliss that referenced this video of a guy shouting for joy in the antarctic:
    (It’s got colorful language via subtitles…)

    And I wondered, when was the last time I shouted for joy? Or danced for joy–when I wasn’t at a wedding. Why don’t we be joyful more often?

    • March 4, 2013 8:31 pm

      Based on that video, it could have been a lack of oxygen… (Where do you find these things? 🙂
      Although I do tend to do that kind of “joy scream” when I am in the car on my way to my favorite Adirondacks retreat or just finishing some great achievement or something. I’ll scream and laugh and thank God and do all sorts of crazy things.
      On the other side of the coin, I’ve also been know to scream and curse and cry in my car, under other circumstances. So maybe it’s just being alone in the car that I feel uninhinibited.?

  7. March 4, 2013 3:56 pm

    Wow. This is breathtaking.

    When my daughter took me to see The Nutcracker last December in Philadelphia, I was so happy, I left the theater dancing. I danced down the steps and out onto the sidewalk. A city bus passed by and no one even glanced my way. So, I kept on dancing — a 48 year old woman’s version of pirouettes and glissades. It probably looked nothing like the way I was imagining it in my head.

    • March 4, 2013 8:33 pm

      I’m sure it did, and I’m sure someone noticed, and said, “Hey – that lady inspires me and makes me happy.” Maybe they even captured it on their smart phone and uploaded into a youtube video somewhere that has had a gazillion hits and inspired millions of people around the world. Who knows?

  8. March 4, 2013 4:45 pm

    I suppose that most people have a mild form of Tight-ass Syndrome.

  9. March 4, 2013 10:53 pm

    I loved this story. People with mental handicaps can be so happy and delightful. This young man had no inhibitions and went with his happy dance. I only wish I could have danced with him. I can not wait until the next snoeflake falls, because I will do a happy snow dance. I work in healthcare and always treat my mentally delayed patients with dignity. It is important to treat these special people with age appropriate care.

  10. March 5, 2013 10:58 am

    I tend to compromise my own happy dance (which looks terrible, by the way) by projecting too often and too far into the future. During my first year as a newspaper reporter, I spent months fantasizing about my reaction when I finally got a job at a different and better paper. I dreamed of walking out in front of the building and doing a big leap and fist pump. When I actually got the next job, I barely did any celebrating at all because it seemed anti-climactic. But later, when I left that second job (which was even worse than the first one) for a third job, my reaction was far more spontaneous. I jumped up in my office and punched in a ceiling tile, which felt great. We can learn.

  11. March 6, 2013 2:21 am

    I love this story, Jim. And you have told it so very well. I can picture him doing his snow dance, joyful right down to the tips of his fingers and toes. What a gift! May we have eyes to see it – and maybe even toes to tap it!! Thank you.

  12. March 8, 2013 11:41 am

    Apparently, his snow dance worked!
    Seriously though, I’m with you – I struggle to go a few minutes without being self conscious or wondering what people think of me. I vacillate between thinking that I’m just trying to represent myself well and that I’m narcissistic and shallow. I think sometimes though dealing with those insecurities is actually a blessing. It forces me to look for validation in God, and it forces me to really remind myself what’s important in his eyes.

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