Tuesday, 23 March 2010
What I Know About Joy
By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times
I have a page – a blog site – on PNN, a mostly-women’s social network where I put my writings and photography. Unlike here, I am, to my knowledge, the eldest blogger on the site. The younger women on PNN bless me with their acceptance; I am honored to realize, by their responses, that they value and welcome the wisdom of age that I can bring to the table.
In a recent post, I said to them, “Do you realize how rare and precious that is in our culture? Trust me; I talk to multitudes of older women, many of whom are not so blessed.”
The subject of joy has come up for deep discussion lately, both on PNN and in my social life. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart. In order to have you understand why, I’m going to bare my soul here to a depth I usually reserve for private conversations.
Years ago, a neighbor, a complainer and catastrophizer about her own (mostly self-induced) problems, sat at my table drinking tea with me and proclaimed, almost accusingly, that my life was a honeymoon one! It was part of her usual plaint about what a victim she was and how inferior her life was to mine.
I no longer remember if I responded, but I wanted to say - “which part of having rheumatoid arthritis since I was twenty-three, with its concommitant pain, crippling and fatigue; losing three babies, two of whom were live births; and nearly losing a fourth one in infancy, constitute a honeymoon life?”
Yes, I then had a handsome, smart, attentive husband and three beautiful children, a nice home and enough money to be comfortable. I thought I had a wonderful marriage and I was beginning a blissful folk music career. A few years later, I could have added to my list of un-honeymoonish developments: a husband who abandoned me and the children after twenty-two years; three more chronic illnesses and three cancers; twenty-five surgeries; further physical limitations; loss of the beautiful big house we’d built; financial stress after a failed business attempt; the agony and worry of a child’s and grandchild’s addictions and dangerous lifestyles; and a sweetheart’s sudden death.
A honeymoon life? I don’t think so.
So what do I know about joy? I know it hides out a lot under life. It’s hard to find, sometimes impossible for long periods of times and sometimes, even having found it, it takes a powder again.
Were there times during all that – much of it ongoing till now – that I could say I was happy? Not always. But yes. What there was of happiness sometimes came in mere flashes of joy – moments, but often hours or days.
I had to learn to invite the bluebird in during the darkest hours. I kept a “best things” diary (believe me, I struggled to find one good thing to record on the day my sweetheart died). kept a gratitude journal and I ended up writing and presenting a musical worship service on “choosing joy” and presenting it up and down the east coast for a number of years to Unitarian Universalist congregations; I needed to hear it at least once a year myself. The congregants cried with me, and hugged and thanked me. I ended it with Camus’ “In the midst of winter, I finally found that there was in me an invincible summer!”
These days, at seventy-seven, it does get harder and harder to “choose joy” as I become more immobilized by the inevitable deterioration of my body, and unable to do many of the things that sustained me through those hard times. But I am fortunate to be surrounded by loving, helpful people – family and friends, many of them younger, who constantly tell me I am their role model and inspiration.
I am lucky to have found creative outlets to replace the beloved music I can no longer do – namely, writing and photography. And I am so blessed by a genetic code that did not tar me with the brush of chemical depression. Not all of my offspring were able to dodge that bullet.
In no way am I discounting the effects of body chemistry or genetic make-up or childhood influences on people’s ability to choose, but I do know that we have a choice – joy and the half-full cup over misery and the half-empty one. And I know that there is always justification for either. But me? I love to sing and dance, even if it’s only virtual these days. I choose joy.
Monday we had a spring thaw before the big snowfall of the year hit. I spontaneously bundled my cute little seated, rolling walker into my car and drove to our gorgeous new Walkway across the Hudson, all alone. Forty years ago, having never done anything alone, I would have been feeling sorry for myself that I was alone; had that forty-year-ago mindset remained, it would have made me a little afraid of falling and having my neuropathic legs give out, as they did near the end of the walk in October (unbeknownst to my grandchildren – that was a day I wasn’t about to spoil).
Forty years ago, I’d have made the wrong choice, based on fear. Was it as golden as the day in October when my grands and I walked it together? No. But was it golden? Absolutely! It was glorious! And I DID IT!
And that’s what I know about Joy. That’s my own truth. It may not be yours, but I highly urge you to at least open the window a crack, if not the door (what the Hell, lift the roof!) for the bluebird of happiness. He can’t come in if it’s closed!
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]