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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.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


My bluebird arrived on your shoulder today. I can't thank you enough.

wonderful post and much appreciated.

Thank you for the reminder..life is out there while we are here..I agree about having young women around who seem to listen and ask "real" life questions and trust my thoughts on their lives, etc..You are a wonderful writer..I will keep the Camus line, although I try to breeze thru lots of harsh realities, never hurts to have a line like that to prod one off the "vale of tears" at times, believe that is a phrase from old cowboy song..Keep writing, it made my morning...thank you...Mary Follett

Nothing I could add to this; it says it all.

Joy in the morning: what a great way to start the day. Thanks, Lyn.

Lynn, I was inspired by your wonderful post today.

You are a perfect example of one of my favorite sayings.

"Should you encounter a problem along your way,
Change your direction but not your destination."

I subscribe to PNN because of Lynn Amer Times -- the "joy" of your posts is the sole reason.
God bless!

Well written beautiful story and I know that is the way you live your life! I love the way you keep pushing the boundaries - like going alone at 77 years to the Walkway to walk across the Hudson. Hooray for you!

Thank you, dear friends, old and new. I'm glad to brighten your days, as your comments brighten mine!

Made my day to read your thoughts! Bless you!!!

Every cloud has a silver lining but it's sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint. [Anon.]

It must have been difficult to relive those life experiences even a little as you wrote them for us. We are learning from you and treasure your being so candid. Thank you.

Yep, as one of those inspired by you so frequently, I can attest to all you've written. Even when things aren't easy, or if you're battling chemical depression, Joy is a choice. And it's one we should all make.

Thanks so much for sharing this, Lyn!

As one of her friends, I have heard Lyn's story before, and I gain much inspiration from seeing how she transcends the obstacles of her life.
Thank you,Lyn.

Knowing you as consitently as I have, I can attest to the fact that the joy in you can not be restrained, no matter what the circumstances, and never will be. It bubbles and bubbles, always just beneath the surface, waiting to emerge, and we are all its beneficiaries. God love you !!

Thank you Lyn for your wisdom.

I love this piece, Lyn. Your life-affirming spirit and joy shine through. I know you are no pollyanna; you work through the difficult challenges with courage and eyes open wide, yet, you are alert to the surprising moments of joy hidden in the dark places. Keep up the great work!

All your sweet and thoughtful comments moved me to tears--and that isn't easy with the Cymbalta I take for neuropathies (it takes away the pain, but also the highs and lows)I think I'm in love with blogging, with Ronni, and all my readers. Thank you so much for your appreciation.

Beautifully written, Lyn. By the time we have reached the elder years we have experienced it all. The ones who have found strength (as you have) to go on and find new pleasures as the old ones leave are the ones who are joyful to the end.

Thank you for sharing yourself, Lyn Burnstine. I'm so moved and inspired by your story that I don't know what to say. I sometimes get discouraged when I am perceived as a Pollyanna because I lean into the light. You helped me realize that what I am doing is choosing joy and it is an honorable choice. I will remember the words you have written here for a long, long time and they will strengthen me. Thank you.

Thank you so much, Cile. (For some reason, I couldn't get comments to register for a couple of days.) Yes, my kids used to tease me about being a Pollyanna--I THINK they have learned that it has served me well.

I see your blog daily, it is crispy to study.Your blog is very useful for me & i like so much...Thanks for sharing the good information!

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