Where Did the Joy Go?
By Rachel Pieh Jones
My nine-year old came into the dining room this morning singing a nonsense song. She poured herself a bowl of generic corn flakes and then said, “Who doesn’t just love life? It is so wonderful. I love my life.”
“What’s so great about it?” I asked.
“I love the food, the way things are made (she patted the IKEA chair she was sitting on and then stared at her hand for a moment), the people I know. I love how hot it is.” It was 98 degrees already and my steaming cup of morning coffee made me sweat through my t-shirt. I kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her hard and wished I could bottle up that joie-de-vivre.
She went outside and discovered that the watermelon seed she planted beneath the air conditioner (where the water sprinkles out the back) had sprouted. She leaped into the air with her arms high over her head and her feet tucked up behind her (a move that in my adult world of aerobics is known as a tuck jump but to her is just childhood exuberance) and shouted, “It’s growing!” Then she knelt down beside the little green sprout and spoke in a hushed voice, her nose almost touching the plant, “It is just so beautiful.”
When did everything get so complicated and hard? When did I stop taking delight in a simple bowl of corn flakes or in the way the heat wraps around me like a blanket, like a hug? I hardly ever take the time to stare at the back of my hand anymore. I’m too busy working or packing school snacks or doing laundry. But I remember the thrill of staring at my bluish-purple veins, the long narrow bones, the creases and scars that mark my hand as mine. I remember feeling awe at the way my knuckles curled and straightened, at the feel of something fuzzy under my fingertips and the way the feeling registered as ‘dog’ in my brain.
I hardly ever let myself be flooded by love for the people in my life. Not just my family members but my friends and coworkers, the store cashiers and taxi drivers, school teachers and coaches. People who make me laugh, train my children, keep me safe. I don’t flip through images of their faces and breathe a silent, “thank you, I’m so glad you’re in my life.” And I certainly don’t shout to my daughter at breakfast that I am filled with happy contentment because of her.
But I should.
Oh, I know very well where all that joyful abandonment went. It went down the tubes of becoming a grown-up, of starting to notice what people thought of me (or didn’t think of me). It got sucked away by to-do lists and never-done lists. It swirled down the toilet of not enough sleep and broken relationships, unmet desires, and frustrated goals.
I want it back.
I can’t get rid of all the monotony of daily tasks or stress or pain in my life but I still have a hand with unique fingerprints and blood pumping through and a white gold wedding band that symbolizes something more, deeper, and better every year. I have food that nourishes me and that tastes good and maybe it isn’t all ‘foodie’ but it is enough and I can be thankful for that. I know people who are creative, hilarious, gentle, courageous and maybe they don’t all live nearby but I have the privilege of being known by them and I can be thankful for that.
The watermelon plant will most likely never produce an actual melon because it is pressing through earth that is more rock and clay than nourishing soil and even if it does, we are moving soon to a new house and won’t be here to see it. But it is growing now. Tomorrow it will have a tender new leaf and the next day another seed will sprout beside it and the leaf and new sprout will be beautiful.
And, I have a daughter who reminds me, with tickling bunny kisses, that the best way to live is to live with joy. With childhood exuberance instead of tuck jumps, with paying attention instead of being too busy. The best way to be joyful is to be thankful and the best way to be thankful is to take notice. To look and see, to enjoy and to say thank you.
Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at:Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.