Colin knows the importance of the mission. Hauling supplies into the den, three twenty-something siblings pause the old-school VCR to applaud their friend’s special delivery—sour keys, licorice and orange crush. No time to talk, it’s back to the serious business of distraction. Specifically, watching John Travolta slick back his hair and strut down the street to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees.
It’s the sixth rewind of the opening scene from Saturday Night Fever and the hysterics in the room could rattle the windows. Teasing each other, mimicking Travolta’s dance moves, and fighting over the last BBQ potato chip—there couldn’t be more joy here.
And there couldn’t be more pain.
The truth is, these kids aren’t happy. Happiness has been replaced by the shock, grief, anger, and trauma of suddenly losing a parent.
But despite the absence of happiness, joy keeps showing up—it’s cheeky like that.
Joy shows up in dance moves and belly laughs. It’s there as you wake up, realizing your friend sat frozen for an hour because you fell asleep on his shoulder. It shows up in the eyes of your favourite aunt dropping off what you now call “funeral casserole.” Joy pops in when you open a five-year old’s homemade sympathy card that says “I’m sorry your dad’s dead—mine’s still alive.”
It’s entirely possible to grieve with our whole heart, and still sense joy loitering around. We can grieve the death of a dream, marriage, fortune, friendship or loved one—feeling terribly unhappy—and still experience joy.
No matter what’s happening in our lives, joy will find a way to us. It’s more determined than the fleeting emotion of happiness. It thrives underneath the darkest night or the bleakest day.
Joy outruns happiness.
A couple weeks ago I was sitting on my bed having a fairly mild but concerning anaphylaxis reaction. It always starts with my breathing getting difficult. Now that I know what’s happening, I practice staying with the sensations and relaxing into them instead of freaking out.
But when I felt myself getting anxious, my little dog jumped onto the bed, backed into me (like a delivery truck) and pressed her weight into my side. Snuggling in, she looked up at me with huge blinking blue eyes.
I was having a medical crisis and suddenly overcome with joy.
Joy isn’t always so picture perfect. Sometimes there is no cuddling puppy. Sometimes, as we sit by the tombstone wiping a tear, there’s no deer emerging from the forest like Disney promised.
But we can conjure up joy with a little absurdity or sarcasm. My highly irreverent friend Roy says Random Anaphylaxis is the perfect name for a heavy metal band. Yes, he’s making light of my medical problems, but it cracks me up—it brings me joy.
Joy doesn’t wait for things to be perfect.
Happiness is fleeting. We humans have a whole myriad of emotions to experience on earth—from contentment, pleasure, relief and excitement, to sadness, anxiety and overwhelm. Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes. Joy, on the other hand, can drop in for a visit at the most unexpected moments. Joy is like a superhero that materializes out of nothing, grabbing hold of our tear-stained cheeks and shaking the life back into us.
Joy is aliveness. It’s the Saturday night fever that animates three siblings watching John Travolta.
Whatever is going right or wrong in this upside-down world, joy will be there. Count on it.
Whatever is going right or wrong in your life today—expect joy.
You are so loved,
Hearing from you brings me joy! In the comments below, I’d love to hear what brings YOU joy, especially that unexpected “random” against-all-odds joy—I know you’ve felt it too. xOm