Don't take joy for granted.
Even if it seems like life is rolling along with just an occasional bump or dip, joy isn't guaranteed or earned and it's never something we should just expect to happen.
Walking in the dark of grief for a while is a horrible way to learn that lesson. When you spend days, weeks, or even months looking at each day as an accomplishment that you have survived, instead of a day worth living with memories to treasure, you begin to realize the nature of joy.
During those times, joy is like the first hesitant tail wag of an abused dog. If you aren't paying attention, if you're too wrapped up in your hurt and fear of living again, you'll miss it instead of encouraging it. Instead of getting easier to find, I think it would get more difficult to notice, just like that dog might decide not to wag his tail.
We have to look for joy and celebrate it and hold it in our hearts sometimes. Then when those hard times come, when we want to curl into a ball and weep for what we no longer have, we need to take those glistening pearls of joy out of our memories and let them live again to make us smile, even if we do it through our tears.
We have to help the dog learn to wag his tail like he did when he was a puppy, by rewarding it, not ignoring it.
With all that in mind, even as my pearls of joy begin to feel more like a necklace than the add-a-pearl chain I had in high school that never grew, Tuesdays are my day to think back and take note of the joy.
So what brought me joy this week?
E1 has a toy stuffed snake with elastic in it to curl around her arm. That same elastic meant it was kind of fun for her to sling it at the car window and let it snap back into her lap on the way home last week. I had warned her that the window was down a little and she needed to quit, but those warnings don't phase a 4-year-old. I remember when we were told as kids not to stick our hands out of the window to "fly" because we might hit a mailbox and lose a hand, but that didn't stop us either. Of course, while we're breezing down the four-lane, she begins to scream from the back seat like she's lost a limb or at the very least been bee stung. By the time I calmed her down enough to determine that the snake had gone out the window, even at 55 mph for a construction zone, we were way on down the road and turning at our exit.
The mother in me said it was a lesson learned and after all she had been warned. She could just cry and get over it. Ma, however, had a different point of view. The lesson was learned of what could really happen and it wasn't really that far back, if we could find the small toy. Rolling back up the four-lane I spotted it when another vehicle ran over it, sending it in a ball rolling on the road. We made another turn around and were soon pulling off the shoulder. Not a single vehicle passed until I had retrieved the toy and was back in the car.
2. The rescue of Hissy, as the snake is named, was a joy because of the smile it put back on a brokenhearted little girl's face. It was also a joy because after I left the girl's inside the house and began backing my SUV down the driveway I hear a small voice. I stop and look around. There was E1 at the front window waving. "Bye, Ma," she called. That was enough joy to get me through a bunch of days.
3. New cushions for the patio furniture. When my grandparents died, I was the lucky grandchild who brought home my grandmother's wrought iron outdoor furniture. One of my doggy parents had just refinished his aunt's set and offered to sand down and paint mine the next summer and I swapped dog boarding for the work. The two chairs, loveseat and chaise lounge make my covered front porch a comfortable living space much of the time. After several years of use, the cushions I purchased for them had become packed down and dirty looking and I'd been shopping around for new ones for weeks. I was convinced that I needed the 5-inch cushions like they originally had, but they are super expensive ($40 for each part and over $100 for the lounge, so about $400 for new cushions). Instead I found some well stuffed, thinner cushions, and on the grounds that they won't last more than three or four years anyway, bought them and we're able to use the furniture in comfort again.
4. Replacement hens. Okay, pullets. For whatever reason my hens haven't been laying as they should, even though they aren't really old enough to stop as the oldest are only 3. Still, I decided I needed to be bringing some younger birds along although I didn't want to raise chicks. Turns out a Facebook friend not far away had raised some pullets and sold them to me at a reasonable price so there are six new birds (one of indeterminate gender) in flock.
6. Being able to reach out to another grieving mother. It's a different kind of joy, maybe more a sense of peace, but being able to use what I've gone through to try to help someone else does make it more meaningful. Having a purpose, a meaning, makes my loss a little more bearable.
7. Having friends who understand because they are also mothers who have lost children. There are unexpected cards, calls, messages, and this week a gift from a mother who was thinking of Mother's Day this coming weekend and wanted me to know she understands how hard it can be. Their thoughtfulness and love brings me joy, even if it makes me cry at the time. I know that helping me also helps them, just as helping someone else helps me. It's an expression of the love we feel toward one another and that helps us all.
So what brings you joy? Exercise your ability to be happy.