Joy has always brought such panic in its wake for me. I remember some of the most important moments of my life – getting into the college I chose, the day of a party I was looking forward to, the birth of my son, finding true love … . Joy would show up at my door and knock loudly. Excited for its arrival I would open the door wide and for a few minutes embrace joy and bask in its presence, allowing it to fill my every sense and cell.
And within minutes, I’d start feeling like I just left myself out in the cold, with no shield on, like I just positioned myself in the path of a comet ready to strike and I would retreat to the land of “don’t be too joyful, after laughter comes crying.” Another unfortunate adage of my culture and my childhood.
My ritual of tuning out joy started when I was very young, probably quite oblivious to what I was actually doing. Like a magic formula, I made myself shut the door in its face each time joy came knocking, foolishly believing that if I pretended I did not hear anyone at the door, the panic in its wake will disappear too. What a trap! Joy continued to knock for a while and I would even crack the door sometimes when its call was too irresistible but little by little joy stopped knocking. It was only panic that showed up – turns out I had forgotten to lock the door for this one and it just. stepped right in. It had taken the lead now and whispered to me like a snake “I’ll show up first and be here guarding the door. Joy may sneak in and then … then you’re screwed!”
Death is the only certainty we have in life. We are told this often. What we are almost never told is that we can die many types of deaths in a lifetime before we reach the end. Squandering all joy for the sake of a false safety is dying a slow death, caused by a soul shrivelling mix of resentment and bitterness poison.
When I read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, 8 years ago, I came upon a chapter for the first time where she talks about squandering joy and what an immense trap that is. She recounts her dialogue with a gentleman whose wife had just passed. He finds Brene after one of her talks and tells her that he was careful to keep joy at bay his entire life, anticipating tragedy and believing that, if he did that every minute of his life, when tragedy did strike, he would be prepared. Not only did tragedy knock him down like it would any other human, but it was so hard for him to get up because he had no moments of joy to remember and use as a balm. This story stuck with me and that was the moment I decided to re-train myself to open the door when joy came knocking, even if, her friend panic comes in as well. At least I get to spend some time in the presence of joy. Turns out, it’s all that matters.