Last night joy visited my house. First it showed up while learning TickTock dances with my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia. The absurdity of doing the dances invoked radical freedom and playfulness. A sense of letting go that comes only when all the players are aligned, when the moment is just right. Then it reappeared when my partner Nancy brought a New Yorker to the dinner table to get help understanding a cartoon. That led to all of us trying to come up with clever captions for other cartoons in the magazine which led to eating ice cream out of the cartons and stuffing chocolate popcorn by the handful into our mouths. We laughed and laughed-- at ourselves, at each other.
Joy is the opposite of a bag or heavy rocks on your back. Joy is that moment in the movie theater, at the end of the best movie you've ever seen, the perfect classical music playing as the credits roll. Popcorn smell in the air. Eyes fixed on the screen, shadows of other theater-goers beginning to move, the sounds of wrappers crunching, whispers as people slip their arms into their coats. And you, in stillness, experiencing all of it, while relishing in the afterglow of that perfect movie. Waiting for the moment when you're saturated in it, ready to put your own coat on, crunch up your popcorn bag, and head outside.
Joy is warm wind, a gentle tornado that smells like fresh baked bread softly swirling around you. Carrying you through life's moments, light, free, alive. Where does joy come from? It lives inside of us but gets silenced by the weight of the world. Like a grouchy first grader, pouting in the corner for reasons unknown until there is the moment when you look over at them, stick out your tongue and make your eyes big and silly. And they smile back, then laugh a little bit, they run over and wrap their little arms around your big legs. And there, in that split second, is an explosion of lightness, a moment of rapture.
When joy comes, it is all-encompassing and we can't feel anything else. The bag of rocks becomes weightless, as if the wind from the warm tornado is carrying their burden. Joy comes from within each of us but is expanded by the energy from those around us. We are the warm wind to each other. Yesterday Nancy and I walked to the grocery store. We had only one bag and it was heavy with a huge jar of coconut oil and a big bag of onions. Eventually we each took one handle and walked home sharing the load. Each of our loads was lighter and the walk home was much more pleasant.
When Lucia was five years old, we took her to New Orleans. We were standing on a big open veranda in the French Quarter surrounded by my mother and two close friends. We had beautiful pastries and good coffee sitting on the table and the sun was bright. As we sat and visited, no place to go, no need to rush, a warm wind began to blow. Lucia, a child of the Pacific Northwest, accustomed to always wearing a fleece, even in the summer, closed her eyes and felt the warm wind on her skin. When she opened her eyes she said, "I love the warm wind."
I will never forget that moment. It was so pure and perfect. That moment, like the newest addition to my library of joy memories added last night, is a touchstone back to what many of us need right now. It can feel counterintuitive for me to feel joy when there is so much pain and devastation around us. But joy is the sustenance of the soul, just like food is the nourishment of our bodies.
When we have moments, like I had with my family last night, that is an opportunity to capture the experience like a photograph or a video, like the perfect movie. As I sit here and write this I can feel the joy from last night. It takes me right back to the laughter and delight I shared with Lucia and Nancy. I feel a rush of love for my family and genuine hope for the future. Joy is always inside of us, but these days it might feel more hidden. Once in a while, there are those wonderful, magical moments when joy is set free. Keep yourself open for these moments. They will help you carry your bag of rocks, at least for a little while.