Joy is hard to write about. Maybe it is because joy feels difficult to wrap my heart around, so wispy and ephemeral. Perhaps too because joy seems so reluctant to share her secrets and never seems to stay in one place for too long. So different from sadness and anger. Those feel so solid, sure of themselves somehow. I don’t need to question what it is I am dealing with when they knock at my door. They feel curiously like a visit from an old family member, one I rarely see but when they do arrive at my door, they bring with them an air of familiarity that feels comfortable however unpleasant. They are frequently loud, messy and blissfully unaware of how much they feel like an imposition and overstay their welcome.
Sadness and anger, well, they have substance, meat on their bones, something to sink your teeth into I suppose. When they are around you really know it, there is no wondering or second guessing. They are formidable and my response to both is predictable. Either I collapse over what invariably feels like too much to bear or I become inspired to mount an extraordinary defense against the onslaught of emotions that threaten to engulf me. Either way both bring with them a measure of comfort and a sense of belonging.
But joy…oh joy is something altogether different. She often comes unexpectedly, rarely announcing her arrival. She feels like the gentle caress of the wind, the warmth of the sun on your face as you lie in the grass watching clouds move across the sky. And joy, she is so easily missed if you are not careful or fail to pay attention. Where sadness and anger threaten to overwhelm you with their intensity, joy, she insists you slow down and give her your full attention to welcome in her sweetness. Joy bubbles up from the inside and reminds you no matter where you have been or how deep your despair, she will always be there waiting for you just around the corner if you look hard enough.
Joy reminds us of the gifts to be found in the subtle and ordinary of our lives. A simple walk in the woods, feet planted firmly on the earth revealing our connection to the natural world. The smell of lilacs, babies chasing bubbles, holding hands, a favorite childhood song coming on the radio. Summer afternoon naps in the hammock, the wafting aroma of hot coffee in the morning coming from the kitchen, the first snow, or the feel of warm sand, salty sea spray and hunting for seashells.
The vibrant pink hue of Spring cherry blossoms, the smell from a freshly mowed lawn, ice cream melting in summer, licking sweet strawberry from sticky fingers, and fireflies shimmering and lighting up the evening sky. The musky drenched smell after an afternoon thunderstorm, a starlit night sky and harvest moon, unbridled laughter with a friend, blackberry cobbler and snuggling before bed with our babies before they get too old and no longer cry to be in our arms.
Joy is fleeting, that seems to be her nature. And our ability to deeply understand and welcome joy seems inextricably tied with how intimately we have lived with her absence. Joy, when she does come, illuminates our darkness. She brings with her a million sweet melodies, chirping of bird’s home after a long winter, summer cicadas, the laughter of children and the familiar jingle of the ice cream truck pulling into our neighborhood with the promise of creamy orange push-ups. Joy lets us hold on to the best parts of our childhood, unadulterated and unscathed by the painful reality of what may have been while holding an enduring hope of what still could be.
And joy has a magical way of lingering, like perfume in a room, staying just long enough to breathe in her hope. Maybe the best we can wish for is to learn to recognize when joy returns and make sure we are patiently waiting for her, open arms and heart, inviting her to stay for as long as she will and reminding her that she is always welcome to come back anytime.