Joy, Every Day

©Pedro de Alcantara

©Pedro de Alcantara

At the beginning of 2017, I noticed that conversations with friends, usually a source of nourishment, had taken on darker, more hopeless tones. Recent political events on both sides of the Atlantic had left us bewildered and despairing, and we were having difficulty shifting our perspective. I decided to gather five of these friends and launch a Joy Skype Club, an occasional online meeting where we focus on what’s good in our lives.

Our group has been running for two years now. To give us a starting point, I choose an intriguing word. It makes little difference if the word is in English or in another language, real or made-up, accurately defined or playfully mangled. It’s just a prompt to spark our imaginations. We’ve contemplated Zwischenraum, yr, less, coddiwomple, hullabaloo, and siga-siga among others. All have led to lively conversation and great hilarity. These gatherings remind us to notice the moments of joy that are always present in our lives, no matter what else is going on.

For me, the fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 made this ongoing meditation on joy even more urgent. The occasion packed a double message: notice the moments of joy, and don’t take them for granted. I always loved crossing the river and seeing the cathedral. Notre Dame rises majestic on a sacred spot in the middle of the Seine. It has been a comfort in a city that, even after 17 years, I still don’t fully embraced as home. I’ve loved walking from the Île Saint Louis to the Île de la Cité, past the buskers on the pedestrian bridge, through the Square Jean XXIII behind the cathedral’s apse and along the water, and coming out at the Pont au Double. In those moments, saturated with the beauty of the cathedral and the city, rain or snow or sleet or shine, I felt great about being in Paris.

I opted not to watch the cathedral burn, but I took a walk the next morning to pay homage. After my visit, I wound my way home through the narrow streets with a heavy heart, contemplating the destruction I’d just witnessed. Suddenly, two balls of Golden Retriever puppy energy skyrocketed out of a dog grooming shop: eight legs, four ears, two tails, and one owner on a leash racing to keep up. I laughed out loud. Puppies need no reason to be bouncy, but it sure looked like they were gleefully celebrating their escape from the groomer’s shears. Their display of unbridled joy in the midst of my grief reminded me that life goes on. Cathedrals that haven’t completely crumbled to the ground go on. Yes, there will be politics, there will be arguments, there will be choices made that I’ll disagree with, and there will be five years during which I won’t be able to take my beloved walk. But in the long run, the fire will be integrated into Notre Dame’s history. Soon, future generations will be free to enjoy their version of Notre Dame. It will be very different from mine, and that’s OK.

We go on. Whether we do so with some contact to joy or not is up to us.

Acknowledging the joy in my life helps me hold things more lightly as I move through the world. I like that. I find it helpful and healing. From what they tell me, my friends feel the same way. As I explore joy more intentionally for myself and with my clients, I’ll be sharing some of that journey here. I’d love to know how it resonates with you. And feel free to share your own discoveries. What brings YOU joy on any given day?

Alexis NikiComment