Yep, that’s right - I stole this blog title from Miriam Toews, but the way I see it, if someone already said it perfectly, why not borrow it? Incidentally, if you haven’t read, All my puny sorrows, what are you waiting for? Janelle Brown of the Los Angeles Times called it a “life-affirming romp through death”. The story is somewhat autobiographical, Miriam Toews having lost both her sister and father to suicide. Out of such unimaginable pain, comes a hopeful book. Now that is lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. (Yes, I know. Also stolen. Thank you, Eleanor Roosevelt. See previous rationalization for borrowing.)
This morning, as I sit by the fire listening to Mr. Wiggle-bottom snore (that’s the dog for you newcomers), I’m thinking about that very thing. Finding light in the darkness, joy in pain, sun behind the fog.
The weather has been stormy in the past month. Like this:
Typical for this time of year. Many days in November served up a big helping of wind, rain, and darkness. Let’s face it, you can only sit in front of the fake daylight lamp, scarfing Vitamin D, for so long before you crack. I needed some sunshine and the forecast was promising plenty. A whole row of those beautiful little sun symbols on the week-long forecast page. My eyes blurred with tears just to see it. I got out of bed yesterday morning, eager to work. I ran to the window and threw open the curtains expecting to find this:
Okay, I didn't expect the flowers so much; it is December, after all. But someone promised me sun and that was what I anticipated as I pulled back the curtains.
And saw this:
Somehow, knowing the sun is there, just on the other side of the fog, is almost worse.
However, I just got to work, ignored the weather and had a pretty good day.
I got out of bed this morning, eager to work. I ran to the window and threw open the curtains . . . more fog. So, I sat right down in this chair and started thinking about the stupid fog. And I thought about my sore back, and I thought about the pile of unexpected bills for house repairs we’ve had lately, and I thought about another day on Weight Watchers while my crazy menopausal body gains weight anyhow.
Then, I remembered last summer, swimming in the beautiful lake on a perfect day and confidently telling my dear friend that joy is a practice.
“Joy is a practice,” says I.
“What the heck does that mean?” says he.
“It means you choose it,” says I.
So, here I sit in my complaining chair, getting revved up for a good grump, and I’m faced with a choice. I’m not grieving, nor am I ill. My worries are minor, and I have not (knock on wood) dealt with depression in my life. Ergo, there is no reason why I cannot be happy today.
I choose joy.
The practice of joy is a three-step program:
The first step is to look for joy in every ordinary moment of the day. Like when I overheard a little guy telling his lunch mates that, “the way [his] mom’s brain is wired, you can almost hear the fuse blow.” Or watching my dog swim, with his little tail wriggling with joy the whole time he is in the water (thus the name ‘Wiggle-bottom’). I can find joy in my partner’s laugh, in the peacefulness of our home, in a story of generosity between strangers. Small diamonds of joy are scattered across our paths, if we would only watch for them.
But it is easy to be distracted by our daily lives, our worries, our fast-paced world. To find joy, you sometimes have to seek it.
Secondly, once you find some joy, soak it up. Immerse yourself in the moment. Slow down and be present for it, however insignificant it might seem, however brief it might be. Inhabit it fully.
Lastly, be grateful. Say thank you to the nine-year-old with the quirky sense of humour, to your pet, to your partner. Say thank you to your deity. Even science acknowledges that gratitude is a positive factor in a long and healthy life. Vitamin G, baby!
Seek it, soak it up, say thanks!
My plan is simple and some days, impossibly difficult. But, when I do the work, it works for me.
I grew up with the song Count your Blessings rolling through my head on a regular basis and it is still something I do often; I list the things I’m grateful for. I do this when I’m feeling blessed and – more importantly – I do this when I’m feeling sorry for myself.
My bills are something to be grateful for because 13% of the world lives in abject poverty and would never dream of being so lucky as to own a home to repair. I’m grateful for this ample and healthy body. Particularly in light of the fact that 795 million people were undernourished last year. One in nine people in the world don’t get enough food to be healthy or lead an active life.
My aches and pains are nothing when I think of the approximately 400 million people who lack access to at least one of seven essential health services. And I’m certainly not going to complain about the weather, when over 650,000 people have died in natural disasters in the last seven years. And I’m sitting here safe and warm in my home! Did you know that 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015? The tally comprises 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries.
Measured against the world’s population of 7.4 billion people, one in every 113 people globally is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker or internally displaced. No more whining today!
Here’s the kicker: in the course of writing this piece, my computer froze twice, once losing my whole draft. Now, any of you who know me will attest to the fact that I do not handle tech glitches with any aplomb whatsoever. I’m impatient to begin with, and for a Virgo, losing a draft is akin to having your car stolen by angry clowns.
But guess what? I was so busy looking for diamonds, I just found the whole computer thing funny, given today’s topic.
In spite of the fog, in spite of everything, I had a good day and I’m glad I chose joy. Glad I decided to leave them in the complaining chair, all my puny sorrows.
*Thanks to Brigid Weiler for sharing the great picture of the old Cortes ferry, The Nimpkish.
* Statistics from World Health Organization, Global Trends, World Bank, and the United Nations
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