“It is morning and again I am the lucky person who is in it.” Mary Oliver
As I stared at the screen of my cell phone, I couldn’t contain my laughter as I sat in the doctor’s reception room. Laughter spilled out as I watched the twenty-second video of my new, three-month old granddaughter that my daughter-in-law had sent to me.
When joy bubbles up, you can’t squelch it. You can’t put a lid on it; you can’t hold it back. Joy has a life of its own. Much like laughter. Both are meant to be shared.
Joy. It’s transformative.
I’m convinced if you want happiness or peace, you must recognize these tiny moments of joy and just let them out! Joy does its best work when it’s let loose, or when we let it rip.
As I looked around the sparse waiting room (I am sitting on a hard, wooden bench, for God’s sake) I realized a number of people are smiling back at me which meant that my laughter had affected them, too. They are smiling and leaning in towards me.
I had to share my joy, so I confessed that I was watching a video of my new granddaughter attempting to roll over. Now their smiles widened, and faces nodded, knowingly.
Babies. They make us smile and laugh. Babies. They cause joy to overflow.
But as much as I am in awe and wonder of this new little life among us, I find joy and meaning in many moments throughout each day. I have cultivated this habit for many years.
I find joy in my garden (even during the bleak, winter months), in my daily walks along the river, in sunrises and sunsets, in the ever-changing skies, and even in the patches of sunlight that fall between the cracks of my shutters, painting a pool of umbra gold on my living room floor.
I find joy when I walk into the long-term care home where my mother used to live, and where I now volunteer. Joy wells up every time I lean over to speak to a resident, and that resident grabs my hand and holds it tightly to their chest. Or when I watch a person who rarely speaks, softly mouth some of the words to “Amazing Grace” and “I Come to the Garden Alone,” during music therapy. And joy sits beside me (and all around) when I read aloud to some of the residents on Friday afternoons at two. As a reading group, we’ve shared many funny stories that bind us in that small, drafty room at the end of the hall. My mom used to call this room “the house at the end of the street” – the east-end computer room to the rest of us.
I feel joy each time I sit with dear friends over coffee, or when I sit in my meditation circle. As friends we share our highs and lows, our achievements (“I have a first grandchild”) and our disappointments; our fears and our hopes connect us, strengthen us. Joy sits at every family meal, she is in my painting supplies, and she is sitting here right beside me as I finally sit my ass and write!
I choose joy every day. Over and over again. I choose joy.
And I especially choose to seek joy when I am in sorrow. Joy and sorrow walk side by side. Laughter is a breath or two away from tears. Both arise within us and cannot be quieted.
Joy and laughter nourish my resilience that grows stronger as I age. Like an old tree, we become stronger in the face of bad weather and adversity. Each moment of joy is like another ring around my trunk, and it is those very moments (like the rings of a tree) that sustain me, that map my growth. Like the concentric rings of a tree trunk, my cells are growing, flourishing, and nourishing my body and spirit. When we recognize that it is those moments of joy and laughter that help us recover, our resilience matures.
When I cared for my parents who both had dementia, I found that the challenge of care-giving became a gift to me because it was during those difficult times I recognized that joy still visited me during my sorrow. I learned that even in the midst of disease, dying and yes, even death, joy springs up.
Joy was in the nurse’s words when she whispered softly in my mother’s ears; joy made me laugh out loud at my father’s bedside when I could suddenly hear a cacophony of birds’ sounds during the early dawn hours; and joy made me smile when a cardinal tapped on the window of my mother’s room when she lay dying.
Joy, laughter, and Grace. If we are open and receptive to them, they will visit often.
They reside within the baby’s innocence, in a stranger’s smile, in kind words, in acts of compassion, in creativity, and in love.
Every day I choose joy. When we choose joy, I believe we choose life.