Finding joy in a red bucket hat

Illustration of a girl on a scooter outside
Nerissa Hsieh/File

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Two minutes into my Uber trip last week, my driver got angry at another driver for not letting us through an intersection. He turned around and quickly apologized to me: “Sorry, it’s been a morning,” he said. “My garage door wasn’t working.” I replied with a faulty, “I’m sorry,” not knowing what else to say. Weirdly, I felt connected to him, knowing that he, too, had a rough start to the day. 

That morning, I had woken up feeling disoriented. I was late to my meeting with my work-study supervisor, and I knew I couldn’t make it to Evans Hall in time from my apartment in the pits of Southside. I caved and called an Uber. 

The short conversation between my driver and me had put us into a serene calmness for the rest of the drive. Neither of us was talking, but I could sense that our presence was enough to remind each other that it’s okay to have a bad morning. Everyone does. 

As I got out of the car, I thanked him for dropping me closer to Evans than the location on the Uber app had suggested and ran up to the seventh floor. Of course, to my luck, my supervisor was not in her office. 

Fiddling with my phone, I realized I had dropped my keys somewhere. I laughed at myself, perhaps because I was trying to be dramatic or perhaps because I was trying to lighten my mood. Either way, I was still sleepy and disappointed in myself, first for being late and now for having lost track of my keys.

I began retracing my steps, walking up and down the levels of Evans, asking the front desk of the Mathematics Library if there was a lost and found (apparently there isn’t) and even calling the Uber driver, only to be sent to voicemail. My keys were nowhere to be found.

Petulantly, I walked to my next class. Looking around I could see some of my classmates yawning, distracted or conversing with one another. Seeing the vast differences in their emotions reminded me of how unique and complex everyone’s experiences are. One day you can feel boundless joy, and the next, you might need all of your energy to force yourself out of your bed. 

On my way home from class, I decided to check if the hat shop on Telegraph Avenue had the hat I wanted for my Halloween costume. 

I pettily bet against myself, sure that they wouldn’t have it. In fact, deep down I wanted them to not have the hat. That way, I could play the victim and have a story to tell. I wanted to be dramatic, because that’s all I had left in me that day.

I asked the woman at the cash register if the hat was in stock. She disappeared for a minute before returning to the counter. “Here,” she said. I looked up in surprise. “Wait, you do have it?” I asked. “Yes,” she responded, confused, as if trying to say, Of course we have a red bucket hat, we’re a hat store! I tried the hat on, and to my further bewilderment, it fit perfectly, as if it was waiting for me to come and pick it out. 

I headed back home under my new red bucket hat and met my landlord outside my door. She gave me a full smile. “I’m sorry about losing your keys,” she said. “But can I just say, the hat … it’s adorable.” I could feel my frown slowly break its tension and curve upwards. “Thank you, I just got it!” I replied with giddy excitement, as if this was the last golden ticket to go to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. 

Was this all it took for me to find joy? Finding the hat I wanted and someone complimenting me? Reminding myself that it’s okay to feel negative emotions once in a while? Or recognizing that others, too, have rough days? As I thought more about it, I realized that joy wasn’t about my new hat per se, but the fact that by experiencing a series of unlucky events that day, I had come to believe I wasn’t lucky enough to experience joy, that I shouldn’t try to find it. In the process, I had let all of my expectations of joy go. 

In a way, expecting to find joy while dealing with trivial yet inconvenient problems is like trying to force your umbrella to work under a tempestuous storm. Sometimes you have to put your umbrella down, feel the rain and let yourself get soaked. And maybe then you’ll realize the harmony in its pitter-patter.

Because when you live in a moment like that — when you let yourself feel negative emotions and don’t force yourself to put up a false smile — you soon realize that you already have what it takes to find joy within you. And sometimes, even in unfortunate circumstances, you’ll find joy in a shape, form and color you did not expect. 

Like a red bucket hat that fits just right.

Defne Karabatur is a social media deputy editor. Contact her at [email protected].