To Teach Me Joy
In my own worst seasons
I’ve come back
From the colorless world of despair
By forcing myself to look hard,
For a long time, At a single glorious thing
A flame of red geranium
Outside my bedroom window
And then another:
My daughter in a yellow dress
The perfect outline of a full
Dark sphere behind the crescent moon
Until I learned to be in love with life again
Like a stroke victim
Retraining new parts of the brain
To grasp lost skills,
I have taught myself joy,
Over and over again…
By Barbara Kingsolver
* * *
The quote above comes from Barbara Kingsolver's book High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never and I came across it recently on a blog I often read.
The blog-writer (whose name is Penelope, but her husband calls her Lope, how cute is that?) writes "I love this reminder that joy is something that you practice. Something you keep doing and keep choosing. It’s a skill to be learned."
My initial reaction to all this practicing-joy junx was something along the lines of "Blah blah blah blah joy. Blah."
It sounded too much like the hackneyed instruction to "focus on the positive" and I don't like being told to focus on the positive. I don't know why. Actually, I probably do know why, but I'm not going to share it with you here. Because it's besides the point. And you don't have all day. So I'll keep this brief.
Despite my initial reaction of distaste, upon further reflection I couldn't get past the fact that the blog writer and Barbara Kingsolver probably had a point, about practicing joy. An inescapable point. A point I really needed to try to appropriate for myself. Give this joy thing a good-faith effort.
I'm out of practice. And as Barbara Kingsolver says, I need teach myself joy "over and over again." And as Penelope/Lope says, "it takes a lot of being gentle with myself… Kindly reminding myself that I’m in training. That it’s ok to start over. And start over. And start over."
So here goes. Scene One. Take One. Action.
* * *
The other night, I was making my way home after a long day. When I exited the subway I was greeted by the sound of a trumpet-player. I couldn't see him - he may have been standing around the corner - but I could hear him. In measured brassy notes, he sent The Nearness of You floating out into the night air.
It was my soundtrack for the short walk up Broadway, fading only as I turned onto my block. Love that song. Love the random accompaniment to the close of my day.
I took a moment to take joy in that.
* * *
As I neared my building, I passed a woman headed in the opposite direction. When she was several feet behind me, there came the (unfortunately) familiar night-time city-street sound of a rodent scuttling out from the trash cans and across the sidewalk.
The woman shrieked; I turned towards her and saw another rat dart across her path. She stopped short, jumped, and shrieked again - louder this time - before racing down the street on tip-toe, squealing "Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew..."
I admit to taking a little joy in that scene, too.