They have a saying in India. “When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are pockets.”
While I am no saint, I do have a magic t-shirt. I’m not sure what makes it magic, but every time I wear it, people can’t help commenting. Rescued from the Walmart sales rack the same year humans first discovered fire, it’s a simple gray shirt with a splotchy graphic of Mr. Happy on front. If you don’t know Mr. Happy, he’s the yellow smiley face emblem, but with arms and legs. Happiness in action.
Meet Subject A, an acquaintance of mine. I ran into him the other day while wearing my magic shirt. “I like that shirt,” he said. “It always makes me smile.” Because that’s what Mr. Happy does. He makes you happy. Except when he doesn’t.
Enter Subject B.
I ran into her later that same day. She’s a cashier at Walgreens, somewhere just shy of retirement age. I watched her interact with two different customers in front of me. As she gave change, pressing a few coins into their palms, she absolutely insisted they tuck this spare change into a jar somewhere. “You don’t think they will,” she said, “but these things add up.” Kind of preachy, but also kind of grandmotherly. When it was my turn at the register, she gave me a quick once over. “That shirt makes me sad,” she said.
“What? Mr. Happy makes you said?”
“It’s a copyright thing,” she said. “The man who invented that smiley face symbol didn’t copyright it. This was back in the 60’s and they weren’t really about that. Every time I see his symbol somewhere, I think about all the millions he must have lost and it makes me sad for him.”
Same shirt. Two opposite reactions. Where Subject A saw happiness, Subject B saw a reminder of loss, of roads not taken, of copyrights not filed. You see what you want to see. When you view life through the lens of a never-quite-filled loose change jar, the entire world appears as greasy nickels and unclaimed pennies.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.