Joy is a decision, a really brave one, about how you are going to respond to life.Wess Stafford
If you’ve been following along with my relatively new blog project, you might have noticed that I haven’t had a post in a few weeks. Thank you for noticing! The truth is, I haven’t been without anything to say or any thoughts to share. (Just ask my husband!) My struggle has been with how to say what I wanted to say without pounding my fists on my desk or raising them in the air, typing in all caps and, well, isn’t there enough of that out there in real life? I think so. Please don’t take my not writing about what’s driving me crazy as a sign that I’m ok with all of this, because I’m not. But for now, I want to focus on looking forward and how I want to live my life as we move into our post-COVID lockdown lives.
I have been thinking a lot about joy. Joy isn’t something that can be manufactured, or acquired, or programmed. Happiness, contentment, calm, acceptance, peace of mind…these feelings can all be achieved or experienced and acknowledged in solitude, in our homes, apart from our usual in-person communities at work, school, the yoga studio or gym, or sporting events or churches. And thank goodness that’s so, because without those feelings this past few months would have been pretty darned miserable.
But as I have been thinking about joy – real, impossible to fake, impossible to force, truly authentic joy – I’m not sure it can be experienced in our current pandemic mindset. I’m not being a pessimist, far from it. I’m being realistic. Yes, watching our loved ones on a Zoom call or waving at our grandparents through a nursing home or hospital window is sweet, and it’s good that technology allows us to remain in contact. But I don’t think that brings any of us real joy. Relief, happiness, or peace of mind, maybe. But not joy. Joy is not accompanied by a feeling of “this will have to do for now.” Joy is not accompanied by a feeling of “this is the next best thing to being there.” It’s just not.
Think of the times in your life when you’ve felt real, pure unadulterated joy. I’ll be willing to bet that not a single one of those times happened when you were by yourself. Not a single one of those times happened without some kind of physical interaction or expression with other human beings. Joy doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In my experience, joy happens when you and another person or as part of a family or community experience something wonderful together. Because what is joy without someone to share it with? Maybe it’s euphoria, maybe it’s excitement, maybe it’s a sense of accomplishment. But joy? Joy isn’t joy until it’s shared.
Think of a long-awaited reunion between a soldier safely returning from a long, far away deployment and his family. We’ve all seen the videos if we haven’t lived it ourselves. When those people run to greet each other, with huge grins on their faces and tears in their eyes, they aren’t thinking “I wish it weren’t raining” or “I wish this would have happened last weekend.” They are, simply, joyful in that moment when they are reunited and can feel the warm embrace of their loved one. There will be time later when they realize that things aren’t exactly perfect, and that maybe they are still irritated by the little things that bothered them before. But, in that moment of reunion, it’s joy.
It’s not just military families who experience that sort of joy at reunions. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren…chances are you’ve felt that real joy as you drive up in your mother’s driveway after a long drive to see her. Seeing your dad’s face as you finally come down the escalator to baggage claim at the airport, where he’s been waiting for your flight for hours, because he wanted to make sure he left plenty of time in case of bad traffic and didn’t keep you waiting. Think of the power of those smiles and those hugs. It’s not just joy, but comfort. A feeling of being home, wherever it may be. Home is not just the structure where we live. It’s the sacred space we share with people we love anywhere we may be – an airport baggage claim, a hospital waiting room, in the family car driving and sharing conversation.
I am an avid sports fan. I’ve been fortunate to have seen, in person, my favorite team win national championships in baseball and football. Though it may seem trite, the feeling when that last strike is called, or the walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth sails over the fence, or when Vince Young took that last step into the USC end zone was nothing but pure joy. High-fiving and hugging everyone around me, people I knew as well as total strangers, screaming with excitement, meeting up with other fans in the parking lot or restaurants afterward…the joyful feeling after a big win is as much if not more of a feeling of a community accomplishment rather than individual accomplishments of individual athletes. “We did it!” “We won!” We. All of us. Together. Even the team itself always seems to say in the post-game ceremony “We couldn’t have done this without our fans.” Could they? Of course. But there wouldn’t be the same feeling of joy.
How much longer are you prepared to live a happy, comfortable, secure, safe…but joyless… life? Personally, for me, not one more day. I realize others may have a longer timeframe for their own reasons, and that’s their choice. But for me, I am choosing the possibility of joy. Every day. Will joy come every day? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m choosing to believe that it might. I’m going to take every precaution to vaccinate myself from a joyless life.
In my experience, joy has much the same makeup as a viral molecule. Some people have a way to shed their “joy virus” everywhere they go. They are definitely symptomatic carriers and are highly contagious. They seem to spread their sparkly, exuberant molecules everywhere they go and even if you don’t want to or can’t share their joy, you can’t help but smile. Others are more asymptomatic carriers – they might have their problems and troubles, but the way they treat people and live their lives despite those things can be a quiet, confident contagion. They might not cause joy, and they may not even be joyful themselves, but they open up the possibility to experience joy because they don’t spend their days dwelling on all the things that could and probably will go wrong. They focus on the possible, on the positive, on all the fantastic things that could be just around the corner or happening right under their noses and hadn’t taken time to notice before. I want to be one of those people.
I want to be a highly contagious, viral spreader of joy. And that means if I am happy to see you, if you tell me something wonderful that has happened to you, or if I’m just happy to get my hair cut again, I’m going to throw caution to the wind, hug the daylights out of you and maybe that joy will spread like wildfire. Don’t be afraid! Stay inside, stay away from me and mope if you don’t want to catch it. Because I’m going to try to be a virulently contagious carrier of joy. I think there are a lot more of you who want to think like this out there, so join me! Let’s smother this damned contagion of fear under a blanket of joy so heavy it suffocates.
Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.Emily Dickinson