Friday, November 12, 2010

The Art of Joy

“He who has not looked on Sorrow will never see Joy.” -Kahlil Gibran

Him: Joy is not so much elusive as it is fleeting.

Me: I disagree with you. Joy does not often come in big packages wrapped in a fancy bow. Joy is taking pleasure where you find it. The laugh at your silly joke, the touch of a hand, the sound of a favorite song, a glass (or 4) of a good wine. That is joy. Keep your expectations low for joy and you will find it, gladly, at every turn.

That conversation has been on my mind a lot lately.

There was a time in my life - OK, most of my life - where I believed his statement to be true.

No. Beyond that, I believed joy was not meant for the likes of me. It was something for others to experience. But not for me. It felt like...maybe it was a reward of which I was undeserving. It was so hard to get out of bed...lots of times I was unsuccessful at the attempt. My eyes would open, I would groan internally, and I would be completely immobilized by the weight of the world on my shoulders.

And then I was struck by real tragedy. Not just sorrow but grief unlike anything I'd ever known before. A keening, acute pain in my heart, my guts, that still, if I think of it too long, you will find me curled up in a ball on my bed, crying into the fur of one very tolerant cat.

That's how joy found me...curled up in a ball, crying at the general injustice of it all.

I certainly wasn't looking for it. Remember, I didn't believe it was for the likes of me.

What happened?

It began with the realization that I had to get out of bed. Plain and simple. While the idea of languishing in bed had a certain je ne sais quoi about it, it really wasn't practical. I mean, eventually I was going to have to pee, right? Which, hee hee, is totally an incentive to get out of bed right there. And, if you've ever had to desperately pee and had to wait an inordinate amount of time to do so, you should totally understand what joy is the moment you find a place in which to relieve yourself. But I digress.

So, if I had to get out of bed, then I needed a reason to get out of bed.

It didn't even need to be a good reason. It just had to be something - anything - to look forward to that would motivate me to crawl out from the protective cave in which I slept.

Thus, it began.

It started with movies I wanted to see or television programs I wanted to watch.

Later, it would be the anticipation of my first cuppa joe in the morning.

Now, I find it everywhere...this "fleeting" thing called joy.

It's in the coffee, sure. But it's also in the glorious sunrise, it's in the regular ease of my commute at 6 a.m, it's in the cheese I get to eat. It's in the laughter I receive from telling a silly joke, in the touch of a loved one's hand, waking up to a great song playing in my head, or in opening an incredible bottle of Malbec and drinking every last drop. Mmmmm...Malbec.

That's joy.

Now, I think of life and the joy in it like this...

Imagine Life as a gigantic pond - one side is birth, the other side is death. In that pond, there are stepping stones. The stepping stones are "Joy". The water is everything else. The water is humdrum, sadness, grief, drama, bullshit bureaucracy, anger.

I spend my life hopping from one stepping stone to the next. Sometimes, the stones are so close together, I barely need to step at all before I'm on to the next. Those are the moments of immense JOY! Like, when I fall in love. Most of the time though, the stones are set so that I have to take a bit of a hop to get to the takes a bit of effort to get to each one. Occasionally, I fall into the water up to my knees - maybe my footing was insecure or maybe I was distracted and slipped.

And then. Then there are times where I look toward the next stone and it's so far away, I know I'm not going to make it without fully immersing myself in the water. And not only am I going to be fully immersed, but I'm going to be floating, swimming, treading the water for quite some time.

This is grief. This is the loss of someone or something who is so dear that I don't know whether I'll make it to the next stone. And the water so cold.

But I know this place. I know, eventually, I will make it to the next stone and that whatever awaits me on that stone, will warm me up. It may be small and insignificant, but it'll be something. And there will be another stone nearby. There maybe several right in a row. But I have to get to that one first.

Now, if you've ever been touched by immense grief, then you know what I mean when I say you're almost always ankle deep in water. The sadness, the grief...they are always there - lurking behind the scenes maybe - but always there lapping gently at your ankles.

But I like to think of that as the lapping of a warm ocean, one that is reminding me of the love I have for lost ones who are kissing me and sharing each moment of pure beauty the world affords me. My loved ones who can't experience it any other way...which makes it that much more important for me to enjoy - because now that joy isn't just for me, it's for them too.

Somehow, as Gibran knew, I know joy isn't really understood or appreciated without loss.

There is beauty in pain. There is joy in loss. You just have to find it. And step on to it. Appreciate it. For you. And for them.

A year ago: Shark Juice

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