Joy - what a pretty word when it’s written. Simple, elegant, symmetrical.
When I think about joy, I think of my Grandma Linda. I see the photo of her that they used on those laminated cards that they had at her celebration of life. In the photo, she was holding some kind of book, open, in one hand, and raising the other up to the sky. Her eyes were closed, mouth slightly open, a smile playing on her lips. I think she must have been singing - singing what? Maybe a hymn, maybe it was the Dixie Chicks, maybe it was her sing-song-y “Honey, I’m home!” that she would belt out every time we arrived at her house, even if she knew that no one else was home. Someone typed the word “joy” in her favorite font and overlayed it on top of that photo. Maybe that’s why I think of her when I think of joy. Maybe that was the point.
I’m not sure yet how I define joy, but I do know the feeling and hold onto snapshots of joyous moments I have experienced: my senior year of college - riding my bike home from a fundraiser at a local brewery for an organization I cared a lot about with a handful of the people that I worked closely with to bring that organization to life. Maybe it was the beer we had consumed, or maybe it was the fact that we were all together, cruising down the empty streets of Eugene on a summery night, or maybe it was a sense of doing good in the world, of fighting for what we believed in, but joy was there in that moment. I felt it bursting out of my heart as we sped down the streets hooting and hollering.
I recall another joyous day last summer when I visited Mt. Rainier National Park for the first time with one of my oldest and closest friends. We had planned to do a different hike that day, but after failing to find the trailhead multiple times, we decided to head up the road a ways, fork over the $25 entry fee, and to hike at the National Park for the day instead. The mountain air was crisp and biting and cold when we got out of the car, but any discomfort I felt was soon replaced by a sense of awe for my surroundings. The bright blue skies contrasted so nicely with the greens and yellows of the meadows that expanded out in every direction and served as the perfect background to the mountain, which is maybe one of the only things besides unicorns that I will ever describe as majestic. Looking around, I felt humbled. We hiked around for a few hours and absorbed all of the beauty and wonder that comes with being in wild places and appreciating nature. I felt that same sense of bursting - like my heart could overflow at any second with the happiness I held inside.
Other instances of joy include: when SCOTUS announced that gay marriage would be legal in all 50 states in 2015, when I met my favorite musician last year and got to tell her how much her music has meant to me over the years, and when my dog (my sweet, shy, very awkward dog) lets go of all of her reservations and plays hard without a care in the world.
The common thread in all of these experiences seems to be connection. Connection to place, connection to people, connection to causes (which, I think are inexorably connected to both place and people).
And I guess it’s funny, in a world that is arguably more connected than ever, why do these connections feel so few and far between?
I write all of this because, for me, it’s been difficult to find joy lately. The weight of the daily (bad) news cycle piles on top of the struggle of being a 20-something and trying to figure out my identity, which piles on top of the inherent challenge of managing the symptoms of clinical depression. And I don’t say any of that to elicit pity, but rather to acknowledge that I’m probably not the only one that feels this way; to remind myself that it’s not only okay to seek joy, but that it’s also quite necessary to living any sort of life worth living; to energize and empower myself to continue to stand up for and work towards what I think is right.
There’s a quote by the poet Tyler Knott Gregson that I have up on my wall at home and it reads, “We are the silver lining in any and every dark cloud we could ever find. There is no need to go looking for the light when you bring it with you.” I suppose this one serves as a reminder to myself to delight in what is and to seek joy because finding joy in what already is helps us to illuminate and imagine what could be.
Now to figure out how to take my own advice. Hmm.