This is the story of Jojo, a toothless South African street child who found happiness in a, by all means, hopeless situation in life…
I once hibernated in South Africa.
German winters are cold and I like warm weather.
I had a little apartment not far from the beach in a beautiful city called Port Elizabeth. PE, as the locals call it, sits on the Eastern end of the famous Garden Route, South Africa’s stunning coastal line.
Port Elizabeth is known for high-in-demand surf spots, ancient Dutch architecture, and long stretches of sandy beaches.
The city has a skate park, right at the beachfront. There is one huge ramp dropping into the park and grindable walls on all sides. I suck at skating. I can barely drive a straight line. On the weekends, I would go there and baby-roll my rounds.
When the surf is bad, PE locals either longboard the steep back roads or come to the skate park, getting their daily fix of standing on a piece of wood. In humble admiration, I often found myself standing on the sidelines, watching the pros pulling off back-breaking tricks.
One black kid frequently caught my attention… not only for his superb ability to skate, but his upper row of front teeth was missing. He seemed to be wearing the same clothes every day, which is not unusual for poor kids in the city.
One afternoon I went to the park after work and I saw him sleeping behind one of the walls with nothing but a plastic back to support his head. He woke up from the sounds of my axle bearings hitting the asphalt and came to sit on one of the benches.
When I finished rolling around and sipped my water, he smiled. He came over and asked if he could use my board. Sure thing. Within an instant, his eyes lid up and he dropped down the highest ramp, screaming and laughing out in joy.
I later learned from a street worker that his name is JoJo and that he is a homeless kid at age 13.
His teeth broke out skating and he could go nowhere to get them fixed, had to suffer though the pain by himself on the streets.
He begged for food.
He slept on the streets.
He had no skateboard himself and I was advised to not give him one; it would get stolen…
How would you feel in his situation?
I can’t imagine and I think I would not feel to jolly, to say the least.
But here is a kid who was happy.
He smiled all the time.
He joked around.
He asked questions.
He taught me how to skate. Over and over again, he would explain to me the same basic thing and would never grow tired of showing me. He was cocky. Teasing me and making fun of me, always maintaining a heartfelt smile in the background.
Why was he happy?
I have no goddamn idea. He was happy for no reason.
He had every reason known to men to feel sorry for himself.
Let’s summarize the facts again:
He was homeless, without family, without shelter, without food, without teeth. I estimate, though I wish for the better, his life expectancy to be a few more years… and that may be a more optimistic estimation.
Yet, he was smiling.
Being kind. Being helpful. Being compassionate.
There is a lesson to be learned here:
JoJo, I imagine, gave up all expectations.
By surrendering, he came to live for the moment. He had no choice but to.
The above sentence is all you ever need to understand to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Though it may sound absurd, I believe JoJo is lucky.
He, by some very unfortunate circumstances, had to give up expectations. He has no hopes for a better tomorrow. All he has is the present moment. His mind has no choice but to accept that he may not get one more day.
Thus, he became present.
And presence is where happiness resides… or have you ever been happy tomorrow?
P.S. I wrote this piece a few months ago in Florida. These days, though I want to, I am not writing much. I find it hard to make time for writing while traveling, staying in different places every night, and meeting new people.