“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~Henri M. J. Nouwen
I don’t agree. At least, in part. I remember a time when moments of joy were effortless—falling in love, singing into a mike with a tight spotlight, making it to 20 weeks pregnant, arguing Roe v Wade with Professor Dworkin, cooking a first meal in my first house. As I write these moments, there are dozens more I could include. Oh, I didn’t include Italy—Siena, Venicia, Torino, Frascati and my friend Sylia. There was a time when joy—near effortless joy— was liberally sprinkled through life. Those were times of purpose—some very grand and pretentious, some as simple as well baked biscotti.
Those were not perfect times—the falling in love was with my then-boyfriend’s best friend, the singing was after years of being told to mouth the words in school choruses, the 20-week successful pregnancy was after a miscarriage, and the first house was in Indianapolis not New York City which was the dream. And Italy, I never got back to live there again.
But I do remember, remember very vividly, the visceral feeling of joy cursing through my blood stream. I remember feeling strong, almost, completely invincible, springing down streets. With every step my heels came off the ground.
Strangely, the first picture that comes to mind of such a time is riding an escalator in an Indianapolis conference center, dressed in my Sandra Day O’Connor best suit, ready to give a presentation at our second annual Women in Law conference. For the life of me, I cannot remember what the presentation was about, but the spring in a step, the power in my blood, the joy in my heart as if, as if it is just out of sight now.
Today, I type on the brink of tears. This morning, Julia rocked too hard, foolishly too hard, on the rocking chair David and I brought home from Costa Rica, She toppled over backwards, breaking in half one of the structural pieces of the rocker. Yes, perhaps it can be fixed, perhaps not. It is the appearance of sudden tears that surprise me. I am not moved to tears over things and not often. Why this morning? Why this chair?
The chair? Well, we scraped through so much of middle class life, more interested in saving for the next production than the downpayment and very rarely buying anything so frivolous as new furniture. Buying and shipping a chair from Costa Rica was utterly extravagant. Also, in last year’s purge before moving, I let go of so many useful momentoes, so many things that would not fit in an apartment, in this new life. But in the culling, what remained was imbued with meaning. Possibly too much meaning, too rich a memory.
And why now? 14 weeks of quarantine. Gut wrenching worry for the larger community—race and democracy. Fear of this virus. Missing smiles from strangers. Wondering if I should dare a demonstration. Wondering if the decision to uproot my life to be closer to family that I cannot not see and a better school that is now a zoom class was skillful. Missing friends and hugs. Missing power and control. It feels like such a long time since joy was effortless, since joy was sprinkled unexpectedly through a life lived with purpose and even the smallest bit of control.
So, if there be joy. And purpose. And strength. It must be chased and chosen. And I am choosing it again today.