A observation of joy

Have you ever seen a springbok?

I mean, wow. This animal is outstanding.

I haven’t seen one in real life, but last night I was stunned into stop checking my three e-mail accounts and Facebook and multiple other open sites on my laptop when I noticed a herd of spirited antelope moving across a sunswept plain appear on the television screen.

The springbok (Africkaans and Dutch: spring = jump; bok = antelope) is a medium-sized brown and white antelope of southwestern Africa.

Settling into a hotel room after flying across the country for the third time this month, I turned on the hotel TV to see what I’ve been missing in the world of pop culture and tearjerker movies that go straight to cable (we don’t watch much television and only get half a dozen channels at home).

Flipping quickly through CNN, MSNBC News, E-Entertainment, BET, a couple Spanish-language telenovelas, and Lifetime, I landed on the Discovery Channel where the springbok drew my undivided attention for at least eight minutes.

Its leaps are breathtaking. Its weight is nearly imperceptible as it hops through the air, and I wonder if gravity somehow doesn’t apply to this creature. The antelope spring and twirl within and among one another, and they do so effortlessly, shamelessly, and gracefully.

The movement is called “pronking”. This means jumping really high in the air and dancing around mid-jump before landing lightly back on their hooves. They repeat the movement over and over, and no one knows why. Some scientists call it a play for love, while others suggest it is merely an action usual and practical to journey across the miles.

Either way, the pronking springbok elk looks…so…darn…happy.

I know that critics of animal happiness are waving the flag of anthropomorphism right now. There is no proof that a non-human animal can feel happy, or sad, or any other human emotion.

Well, I challenge anyone to watch a pronking antelope and tell me he isn’t celebrating something.

Perhaps it’s the way the grasses turn in the breeze and how they nourish the earth and the animal. Or a ray of light as it reaches just over the horizon to break a young and unspoiled day. Maybe it’s the subtle scent of mating that hovers in the air for a few seconds and then disappears completely, having met the animals’ need for breath, movement, and new life.

Do animals feel joy?

Watch my dog as he bounds across a soccer field to fetch a ball. Observe a kitten that tumbles over a ball of yarn, stumbling, yanking the string between its paws. Listen to a cricket chirping at dusk. Stay still as a shock of red cardinal greets you brightly in the wintertime.

When was the last time you felt sheer joy, dear reader?

When was the last time I did?

When did I feel nothing but happiness for the sake of new and rushed and exhilarating love, or for old and deep and tempered love, or for in-between and struggling love? Or for all three?

When did I feel happy for nothing and for everything?

For seasons in which I’ve been swept away by both the sunshine and the storm?

For what I have lost and for what I have found?

I could learn a lesson from the leaping antelope, the springbok. I might endeavor to celebrate something that means little to anyone today – a glance, a song, a circle, a walk. Might you celebrate, too?



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