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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

when i first became friends with cathy, which was almost 30 years ago now, she lived with her father in park ridge.  one of the things i loved about cathy’s room is that she always had interesting things on the wall…cartoons, pictures cut out of magazines…a wolf,  a guitar, the dalai lama…you know, very important things.  i loved how she taped them to the wall so they were always in view…visual reminders of what was meaningful to her.

one day when i was over there i noticed something that had been cut out of a magazine and taped right in the middle of her door.  it read “joy in spite of everything”.  i remember reading it and feeling a new space open up in my understanding of the world…a possibility i hadn’t seen before.  it felt like such a bold statement about life and what was important…what one could choose to focus on.  the idea that we could even have a choice was new to me.

i had already been through quite a bit of trauma in my life…experienced deep pain.  when people would talk about positive affirmations, i wanted to punch them.  it felt so invalidating.  how could i “put on a happy face” in the midst of what i had experienced?  how could i “think positive” while feeling such deep greif and pain?  i could not. but this idea…joy in spite of everything…that was something totally different.  the idea that right along side the suffering, the pain,  real things we experience in life, there could also be joy.  joy in spite of  everything…not joy instead of everything.

over and over again in my life i had gotten the message that how i felt wasn’t ok.   my feelings seemed to make people uncomfortable.  i hadn’t met anyone who could sit with them…sit with me while i felt them.  people always tried to get me to change my feelings.  i couldn’t have changed them if i tried…my feelings were so deep.  there was so much pain…so much loss, i felt like i was drowning in them.  how could i just make the pain go away after all that had happened?  i could not.  but what i could do was start to see joy in spite of it.

this idea rang so true to me that i immediately asked cathy if i could borrow that little strip of paper that she had cut out of a magazine.  i took it and photocopied it…then laminated it…purposefully taping it to my door at eye level.  i wanted it to be the last thing i saw every day before i went out into the world…a reminder to myself of what is possible.  that sign has been with me all this time.  it has been taped to many doors…it has been up in all the places i’ve lived.  i have photocopied it many times and given copies to people.   the sign is sacred to me.

i believe in those words…joy in spite of everything…it is an ideal i strive for.  there is always joy.  we just might not be able to see it through the pain and confusion, and that’s ok.  i don’t think many of us, if any, will reach the point in this lifetime that we always can see the joy in life at every moment, no matter what…but whether we can see it or not, it’s there.   and the more open i am to this truth, the more i can experience it.  i am not talking about not feeling our feelings of pain and grief…i am talking about being open to see the joy in life, in spite of those feelings…right along side of them.

in times of great pain, there is still music…the sun still sets…the wind still blows, making the trees sway back and forth…the birds still sing.   there is so much joy and beauty in life.  i have, at times, experienced such deep pain that i couldn’t see any of those things…i couldn’t see the joy.  but there always came the day that i noticed, despite the grief, the beauty of a flower or how good it feels to pet my dog.  i might still be experiencing pain, but found myself stopping to listen to the sound of a creek…and it would surprise me…it would surprise me that i could feel joy in the midst of such pain.

it doesn’t surprise me much anymore.  i know it is a constant in life…the joy…it’s always there.  and my job isn’t to try to force the joy…my job is to accept whatever it is i’m feeling.  and in accepting that, i allow myself the space to start to see and feel the joy… in spite of anything.

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the other day while my husband and kids were eating lunch,  my husband and  my son were joking around about something…at one point my husband said to him “well, i’m not going to send you to siberia.”  my son asked what siberia is so we started to explain.  we explained where it was and the climate…and then i explained a bit about the labor camps.  i told him that my grandfather was sent there from latvia, that he died in the camps.  my 4 year old daughter had been listening to all of this and had a question.

“can you make snow angels in siberia mommy?”

i was taken aback by her question but told her that you can make snow angels anywhere that there is snow.  i imagined my grandfather making a snow angel in siberia.  did he?  did he find joy in the camps?  did he find meaning in his life?  i can only imagine what he endured.  i know many of his friends and fellow latvian officers were killed.  i know he was brought to trail by the russians and sent to a labor camp.  i know he never heard from or saw his family again.  i know he never made it out of the camp.

in the book, “man’s search for meaning”, victor frankl writes of his experience in a concentration camp during the second world war.  he explains why he wrote the book in the preface, saying, “I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.”  he explains some of the horrors they experienced in the camps…but also that the prisoners found bits of joy, humor, love, connectedness, meaning, in spite of their horrific situation.  he did not say it was easy, or that everyone could connect to that which is greater, that which connects us…the beauty of life…but some did.  he tells a story of a fellow prisoner rushing into his hut one evening to ask them to come outside and watch a beautiful sunset.  he tells of art and humor…sacrifice and hope.

“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action.  There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed.  Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

what made these few different?  were they just better people?  stronger people?  i would argue no.  i think they just knew something that perhaps the others didn’t…that we are more then our situation, more then the circumstances of our lives, and they were able to remember that truth in the most difficult of circumstances…it’s during the most difficult times that most of us forget the thing that is most important…we are spiritual beings having a human experience…life is full of pain and suffering…the pain that we can experience in this life can feel at times unbearable…and it is real…but that is not who we are.  we are not our pain.  we are our light, and that light is in all of us.

so did my grandfather make snow angels in siberia?  probably not.  but i hope that for one moment he watched a sunset or listened to a bird and remembered that he was more then anything that would ever happen to him.

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