There are times … when I become aware of an almost tangible presence of joy. These times often happen when I am immersed in art and beauty.
Lost in a U2 or Foo Fighters or Relient K song. Reading the beautiful prose of Madeleine L’Engle. Even at the sound of a particularly poignant chord.
I grew up singing a song that went something like “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” The words I said didn’t match the fear and shame I felt, down in my heart. I kept quiet about the discord because, well, shame.
I remember moments of joy along the way. Standing atop a mountain in Alaska, looking at the panorama in front of me. Beholding the wonder of the Northern Lights. Crossing the finish line of a half-marathon I ran. Saying yes to a proposal of marriage from my beloved. Gazing at the majesty of Lake Superior. Reaching the top of the rock climb. The first time I saw the Atlantic Ocean.
Then our children came along.
Wow, what joy I experienced watching their firsts, and all the examples of their unique and beautiful individuality. But, call it post-partum depression if you like; in the dark and quiet of the night, the joy would fade and the pain would still be there. During these years, I discovered that joy and sorrow co-exist, which may have been the first blow to my strong commitment to either-or thinking.
One day, a day that lasted a couple of years, I began to understand that the very sorrow that had clung to me was a gift, and I became more integrated, as the joy and sorrow within me were welcomed both as precious parts of my life.
I recognize what sadness feels like. I know it from the inside out. And that makes the joy all the sweeter. The light is more beautiful when you come out of the darkness.
Madeleine L’Engle (another of my very favorite authors) wrote about joy and unity in this poem from her book, The Weather of the Heart.
To hold the I as one only for the cloud
Of which I am a fragment, yet to which I’m vowed
To be responsible.
Its light against my face
Reveals the witness of the stars, each in its place
Singing, each compassed by the rest,
The many joined to one, the mightiest to the least.
It is so great a thing to be an infinitesimal part
of this immeasurable orchestra the music bursts the heart,
And from this tiny plosion all the fragments join:
Joy orders the disunity until the song is one.