Joy used to look quite physical, as in jumping for it. It was exuberant expression of welcome as it appeared, or maybe even a last, muscle-bound push toward heaven to bring it down. Like once it was created - or recognized - joy floated right there above my head, within arms' reach. I just had to push and reach and pull a bit to grab, to bring it to me, to own it.
These days, joy tends to float down from the heavens, like tiny bits of manna sprinkled almost at random. They sustain and amaze, these little bits. They no longer need such effort to be captured. They just appear.
I don't have to bring it. It's there, dust mites floating all around, illuminated when the angle of sun and shadows are in sync, when I have eyes to see.
Last night, the night before school; always (and forever, I suppose) full of excitement and anticipation, I couldn't sleep. I nestled into the crook of my husband's arm and lived in the joy of that moment, this touch, a closeness that may well be fleeting, because who knows what the next day will bring? We had that moment, hands entwined, the easy sound of his breathing in rhythm with my own.
I clung to that joy most of the night; the excitement of Everything New Begins Tomorrow was so great that sleep eluded me, until 3AM. It's the back to school thing, I think; I went to school as a student; I continued as a teacher; and as a mother, for almost 20 years now I've shepherded my children into and through their first days. For some 45 years now, fall brought to my doorstep a new beginning. It's still a moment of expectation and anticipation.
All but one of my kids have finished the adolescent years of public education, and today that one indulged me once again, standing on the sidewalk for the obligatory first day photo.
He was alone.
That was a first.
But there is joy there, too, in that things change. I have a friend who is expressing some recognized need to slow down, to withdraw, to be still. It's more than just living into that Bible verse that most evangelicals have quoted to themselves and on another when they are overbooked and under resourced: Be still and know that He is God. It's not just a daily solution, it is A Different Way. I feel it and sense it, in the quiet of this morning in an empty house, in the sole steps of one child making his way to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus.
And I read it, in a quirky and almost amusing bit of timely interaction with the book I am slowly savoring, bits and pieces every morning:
"...the first half of life is writing the text, and the second half of life is writing the commentary on that text. We all tend to move toward a happy and needed introversion as we get older. Such introversion is necessary to unpack all that life has given us and taken from us. We engage in what is now a necessary and somewhat natural contemplation...we move toward understimulation, if we are on the schedule of soul. Life has stimulated us enough, and now we have to process it and integrate it. Much of life starts becoming highly symbolic and "connecting," and little things become significant metaphors for everything else." Richard Rohr, Falling Upward
And there, in that big chunk of quoted text that any reader might likely simply skip over - there it is. Joy. Defining and explaining and becoming, all at once.
Life becomes symbolic and connecting
and everything is metaphor.
Can that be joy? Not a thing or a place or a person or an event - but everything?
It is, for me. There is a gleeful, joy-filled resonance in this. It grabs hold of the deep gestation of the beginning, when the word was with God and the word was God and in him all things were made and nothing was made that has been made, that circle of light and life that rises above and becomes everything.
It is family, the expansion of a heart as a massive holding tank for love, and the way that a solitary walk towards the bus can carry four siblings and the bloodline that defines who and whose you are, all caught up in fifteen years of lanky adolescence.
It is a sleepless night, with restless thoughts and odd dreams, carried all the while with subliminal knowledge that there is joy, and there is morning, and together, they both will come.