Joy: contradicting despair #1

Infant Joy

I have no name
I am but two days old.—
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name,—
Sweet joy befall thee!
Pretty joy!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee;
Thou dost smile.
I sing the while
Sweet joy befall thee.
I have been reliably told that I spent the first months of my life crying inconsolably, and yet, I was called Joy. I was Joy for many years, unsuitable name though it was, until the people who called me that were gone, and I became Joyce. Even my children and grandchildren call me Joyce. I don’t complain. It is my baptized name after all, but I liked being called Joy. It reminded me that joy existed.
Just today, I got short video texted to my phone, which showed my 14-month-old great granddaughter rising to her feet, free-style with no support, and setting off to walk toward her joyful mother’s out-stretched arms, moving with sure speed toward laughter.
Joy is not contentment, nor even happiness. Dwelling in joy sounds challenging. Ancient Chinese medicine warned that excessive joy damages the heart. We are told that winning the lottery is a stressful experience, for example, and can lead to negative outcomes.
I have known only one person who came anywhere near dwelling in joy. That was my Aunt Mae. I didn’t see her often because I lived hundreds of miles away from her, but when I went back to visit my grandmother, I always walked to Mae’s tiny house under the mountain. The last time, I did so, I was with someone, my sister perhaps. As we neared the little porch, we could hear her singing. She had always had a dreadful voice and she was belting out, Jesus Loves Me at the top of it. It took a while for our knock to penetrate her ecstatic hymn. Then she threw open the door and cried out with such welcoming love that you would have thought Jesus himself had come to see her.
Mae had seen many dreadful things in her life and suffered poverty and abuse. I had watched her grieve enough to finish off most people, but now in her old age with legs like stove pipes and the agony of a declining body, she was joyful.
When I think of her, I can’t decide whether she was a saint or senile, an old fool, she would have called herself.
I propose to continue my contradiction by looking at ecstasy, contentment and happiness in future posts in order to set them against the deep and abiding depression that I share with several others in my life.

Bulletin from Shangri-la #5: village life

Village in Sierra MountainsMy mother was gravely ill for several years before she passed. She took comfort in the idea that God never closes a door without opening a window.

My own experience was summed up in a recent cartoon. Two women are lunching. One says to the other,” I find that when God closes a door and locks all the windows, I can still squeeze in through the dog door.”

But black humour aside, great misfortune often produces blessings.

One upside to the economic crash is that my family and I found ‘Shangri-la’, a mountain village in the Sierras. (Notice how canny I am about not naming it or providing its co-ordinates. Get your own great misfortune.)

For all I know people may live to be several hundred years old here as they did in James Hilton’s fictional paradise in Lost Horizon, high in the Himalayas. Certainly there are a lot of older people here, retired cowboys, architects, doctors, executives. Many working visual artists and an unusual number of professional musicians surviving the music industry’s transition. They can’t seem to get even free beer for plying their craft, but it doesn’t stop them from gathering and playing their hearts out.

After a previous -but lesser- misfortune, I moved to a country village in Ontario, Canada. For one thing it was cheaper there and things were on a human scale. You could park anywhere at no charge. I was right at the centre of town, a no-stop-light intersection, beside the church and the post office and across the road from the only store. I could walk out to the country in 4 directions in less than 15 minutes. One Christmas Day, I picked up a parcel from Belgium. My Newfie dog could wander in the field behind me at will. I went to buy a saw at the store one day. The Korean owner asked me what I needed to saw. I said ” A piece of wood this big.” I was mending a door frame. “Take it and bring it back when your done,” he said. The guy in the Mt. Albert hardware store always understood what thingamagig I needed and generously explained how to install it. I even had my own barn. Lots of storage there. And the tallest TV antenna tower for miles around. It soothed my soul. And set me up nicely for the real estate crash that coincided with the necessary selling of the house.

But it wasn’t Shangri-la. I was an in-comer for the entire seven years I lived there. The long term residents still mistrusted me, although they welcomed me at church. Like the other in-comers I commuted to work, although unlike them, I did not drive a big rig. Some of them thawed when one of my seven cats took to following me and the Newfie every time we went for a walk. “Oh, you’re the woman who walks her cat…”

In this Sierrra Shangri-la, everyone speaks to us. Getting croissants or the mail has to be leisurely. Dogs and people waylay us. It’s true that my son-in-law knows all the musicians and golfers, my daughter knows the musicians and everyone who goes to the daily tai chi and yoga classes, they both know all the artists, and the Vegas mother-in-law talks to everyone in the casinos, so of course she talks to everyone in the village. You simply do not pass anyone without speaking.

Worn out by the short walk “downtown” -it is high, remember- I collapse into the big chair, my feet up on the big hassock. The door is open to the breeze on this warm day. The pines are sighing, whispering, a song of deep contentment that I have brought with me from my childhood when we picnic-ed under them.

Life on a human scale! This is bliss.