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Beggars Can’t be Choosers: Unless They Offer Laughter in Return

Why Joy is One of the Greatest Gifts we can Give

Image by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

I was headed home for a funeral the other day. I had to take an hour-long train ride at around 10pm, I was tired, hungry, devastated by this unexpected death, and certainly did not want to speak to anybody around me.

I grabbed some pre-made sushi and sat as far away from people as I possibly could. I ate, I thought, I moped. The last thing I wanted was for somebody to come up to me and strike up a conversation.

Of course, this is exactly what happened.

I finished putting my third of maybe eight pieces of tuna into my mouth when I saw a man headed right for the seat in front of me. I moved swiftly, throwing my chopsticks in the box, but I struggled to close it up. I was too late.

Larry had arrived, and I had nowhere to go.

Larry was in his 40’s or 50’s, he wore a sweater with holes, the same went for his jeans, and his boots had massive dirt stains on them. He greeted me warmly, and I just had to smile.

“I don’t mean to interrupt you sir, but I am homeless, and I am looking for something to eat. I just want to spread some joy to other people’s lives. If I can make you laugh, you have to get me something to eat.”

Now remember the situation I am in here. I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m embarking on an hour train ride, and somebody extremely close to me growing up just passed away unexpectedly. But there was something about Larry that made me want to give him a chance.

I looked at Larry and I told him to go ahead.

He said he had two jokes to tell me, and if I laughed at either of them, then I would feed him. I agreed.

The first joke was about a squirrel and his nuts. I think you can tell where that one was going. He forgot some of the key components and messed up his delivery of the punchline, so that was sadly strike one for Larry.

The second joke was better. I’ll paraphrase it in case you’re looking for a laugh:

A priest, a hippie, The President of The United States, and the smartest man in the world are on a plane that is going to crash. There are only three parachutes, and they have to decide who is going to survive.

The President says, “I’m the President of The United States, I must survive for the sake of my country!” He grabs a parachute and jumps out.

The smartest man in the world says, “I’m the smartest man in the world, I must survive for the sake of my brain!” He grabs a parachute and jumps out.

The priest then looks at the hippie and says, “There is only one parachute left. I am a righteous man. You take the last parachute, and I will die.”

The hippie replies to the priest and says, “Nah, man, we can both survive. The smartest man in the world jumped out with my bag of weed!”

In fairness to Larry, this is a pretty good joke, and I definitely smiled. But he didn’t get a full laugh out of me, so although a valiant effort, Larry did not win this wager.

But, I thought about what Larry said:

“I just want to spread some joy to other people’s lives.”

With that in mind, I wasn’t going to let Larry leave empty-handed, so I slid my sushi box over to him, told him I loved his message, and gave him the remainder of my dinner.

He looked at me with this shocked look in his eye. He put his hand on the box, inspected what was inside, slid it back in front of me, and said,

“Man, I don’t eat that!”

I burst out into laughter. Larry had won the bet after all.

We went over to the deli next door, and I bought him a sandwich and a Coke.

What I Learned From Larry

Larry taught me an incredibly valuable lesson that night. He taught me about asking for help, being vulnerable, and adding value to others. He also taught me that if you have something that can benefit another person, what you receive in return should be worth it to you as well.

A beggar can be a chooser. A beggar can choose what they receive as long as they are providing some value to whom they are begging. Larry made me feel a particular way, and completely reinvented the way I was approaching a situation.

He did so with a joke, a laugh, and a smile.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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