For my ninth birthday, I was given a book about a girl and her horse, living in Ireland, and the journeys they took throughout the country. It quickly became one of my favorite books of my childhood, because all of it resonated so deeply with me at that age: the horses, the adventures, the Irish side of me. One of the major themes within the book was an old Irish superstition. “If you see a magpie, look around for another, for one will bring you sorrow, but two will bring you joy.”
Magpies aren’t common where I grew up in Michigan, but fast-forward ten years to living in Colorado, and magpies are everywhere. And you have to keep in mind that throughout my life, I’ve had a tendency toward superstition. Not to any wild extent, but in addition to my Irish heritage, I pitched in highly competitive softball for fifteen years, where I was taught to do things the same way before every pitch, every at-bat, and every inning. I’m also a big-time, lifelong fan of Major League Baseball, where superstition reigns supreme throughout the league. (Whether it’s wearing a lucky number, not talking about a no-hitter in progress, or never stepping on the chalk, superstitious rituals are the norm in both baseball and softball. And those aren’t even some of the weirder ones.) Anyway…considering my predisposition, you can bet that whenever I saw a single magpie, I was looking around for a second one. Fortunately, the second magpie was never difficult to find.
The first few months that I was out riding, it was extremely rare to see a magpie that was truly alone. But one day, the inevitable happened. I spotted one magpie. When I looked around, there were no other magpies to be seen. Deep down, I knew that it was just a superstition, but I had ingrained it in my own head for so long that my first reaction was discomfort. Things were going pretty well, though, and continued to go well, even though I only saw the single magpie that day.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that joy does not come flying in on the wings of magpies. Nor does a solo magpie act as a harbinger of sorrow. Joy and sorrow are much longer-lived than the fleeting feelings of happiness and sadness. While I was working on my bachelor’s degree, I learned that moods are the overarching reason we wake up feeling good or bad, and they direct our emotions, which are much more fluid and subject to change. Those moods can be influenced by our life circumstances, but are influenced on a grander scale by the way we approach and handle those circumstances.
Someone once told me that joy, much like sorrow, is a mindset. And of course, while we pass through seasons of both sorrow and joy, the two combined encompass our lives. The predominant one lives in our hearts. It becomes the way we see the world and the things that happen to us. When I was hiking the Grand Canyon with one of my best friends, the conversation on the uphill trudge turned to, “What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?” Neither of us could name a specific event. The conversation ended in laughter, at the things we had done and dealt with in hindsight, but also in a retrospective appreciation for the things we’d learned from what we’d done.
As dismal as things may seem at the moment, there are always lessons to be learned. It’s a little easier to learn those lessons if you maintain a joyful heart. It starts on the inside, and that joy will radiate outwards and bless others. And a joyful heart can always be had, whether you see one magpie or a whole flock.