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.

The Fortunate Fall: change the future in a blink

Aunt Mae could see the future. It wasn’t a big deal to her. She didn’t tell most people. Only a few family members like my sister and I knew. Some outsiders knew and she got letters with strange postmarks and stamps in her mailbox that sat beside the main road 2 miles from where her tiny home sat under the mountain. Once in a while a big expensive black car swayed and bumped up the narrow dirt track and neighbours wondered why. Chances are it was a politician, a leader in government, a big business man maybe. She had those contacts, but she never took money. She did take a bottle of brandy, just as a house gift and purely medicinal, of course. She told us, Georgia and me, that if we had the gift, we must never sell it.

Anyway, it- fortune telling- wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Sure she saw the mushroom cloud 2 years early and knew that nothing was going to stop that horror. She could live with it because she also lived with her Lord and her best buddy Jesus. When it came to individual fate, however, it was changeable. Sometimes she told what she saw in order to prevent it. Telling might galvanize the person into changing and changing it in the process.

So, yes, the future is changeable because human beings are. But sometimes change doesn’t happen until circumstances force it.

So she had seen this particular family crisis coming and cackled with glee. “It ain’t much.” But a woman of her faith could say that about the deluge, probably about the apocalypse, so I didn’t trust her. “You got to let your chicks out from under your wing. Let them out into the barnyard. They got to deal with that old fox theirselves.” And then I forgot. I put this “dire” warning out of my mind. Wouldn’t you? Besides she was very possibly just a batty backwoods hillbilly who’d made one too many trip to the brandy bottle and was stoned on Jesus.

Then last Thursday the event began to unfold. I booked passage. All our crises are transcontinental. Yes, there were enough airmiles. Yes, there was a direct flight. Yes, I could do 3 days planning and packing in an afternoon and leave in the early morning.

Of course I couldn’t sleep even after word came back that there was breath and life and a reasonable hope of complete recovery.

Sitting in a hospital room on the west coast, reading out loud to the patient from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, I remembered something else Mae had said. “You can change your future in the blink of an eye.” She meant one moment’s inattention, one sudden impulsive decision. She warned Georgia and me about that. That’s how people drive in front of buses. Reason, logic, all our careful rules and practices can fall away and we act suddenly and dangerously.

Now here’s the miracle. There is a whole support system that can catch us in our fall. And it always works even though in the process we leave the physical plane. We felt this last year when a family member passed away, long before her time, and seemed to open a door into a great love when she went.

Neither Georgia nor I were able to sustain faith in Mae’s God so we pretty much knock about without that security and yet more times than we can count, we have felt that unfailing support as we do now.

There was no logical reason why things should have turned out so well. Coincidences maybe. Lucky breaks perhaps.

It has turned out to be a fortunate fall.