A Year of Joy, Part 1: January to June
On this third Sunday of Advent, referred to as Gaudete (Latin for “rejoice”) Sunday in Christian tradition, I am revisiting the meaning of joy in what has been a challenging year.
As 2023 comes to end, I could write it off as a shitshow. My second breast cancer diagnosis, which arrived in the cold, dark days of winter, infected much of 2023. Surgery and my recovery from it caused me to miss the spring planting season. A summertime course of chemotherapy ruined our plans to go to Hawaii, and a poorly timed tropical storm blew our fall Rehoboth Beach vacation plans out to sea. As winter rolled around again, Wendy missed a step while putting up holiday decorations and tore up her foot/ankle (it’s healing well, but it’s put a crimp in her style).
Although I appreciate the flowers, get-well cards, fruit baskets, and candy I received from friends, the things that brought me joy were the spiritual gifts that accompanied them—the deep connections, caring phone calls, expressions of love, and occasions of laughter.
Have I been happy this year? I’d be lying if I said yes. Sure, I’ve been happy at times this year, but, overall, I’d say I’d only score about 60% on a happiness scale. Instead of writing the year off as a lost cause, however, I feel a deep abiding joy for so many of the gifts I obtained this year.
Differentiating happiness and joy
A year and a half after she placed the original order, my wife Wendy took delivery on a new truck yesterday. She had been waiting patiently—uncharacteristically, I might add—to receive word that Ford had finally started building her truck. When that word arrived, when she received confirmation that it had been shipped, and as it slowly made its way from Mexico to the Ford dealer where her brother works, she became more confident that her dream of a new vehicle might actually become a reality.
Yesterday, I watched her smile as she admired the hot pepper red paint, as she turned up the radio full blast, and as she showed it off to her family. Her new truck makes her happy.
Happiness, however, can be a fleeting experience. As she commutes to work each morning or gets stuck in traffic on the way home, her happiness will probably fade over time. Her joy, on the other hand, over what the truck offers her and the people in her life will not. It’s not only a literal vehicle but a spiritual one too.
She won’t forget, for example, the perseverance it took her to save for five years for an imagined new truck she might someday buy. She will feel joy each time she loads her kayak to connect with the river she loves so much or her bike to join a friend as they try out a new trail.
Knowing that she’s reducing her use of fossil fuel by driving a hybrid truck that gets 40-50 miles per gallon will bring her deep sense of satisfaction, a key ingredient of joy. And each time we take the truck on the road, she will feel joy that the truck connects us with other people, nature, wonder, and each other.
Joy comes in the connections.
A joyful shitshow in photos
As a spiritual exercise on this Gaudete Sunday, I’ve chosen a photo from each month of 2023 to represent a moment that brought me joy this year. I’m glad that I had some difficult choices to make in some months because despite everything that happened, my joy transcended the shit.
As you peruse these photos, I hope you’ll be reminded of your moments of joy in 2023.
On my way out of Selma, AL, after delivering donations collected from friends of the Living Legacy Project to a city decimated by a tornado, I was gifted with this blanket of love over the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.
While other eagles we saw on my friend’s 75th birthday eagle tour kept their distance, Bandit, an eighteen-year-old American Bald Eagle, perched on a branch while our boat crept up beneath her. Seeing my friends connect with each other and this incredible force of nature brought me deep joy.
Much too rare, in-person time with my nephew Thomas reminded me of the joy that comes from fertilizing the roots of my family tree.
This tiny earthworm illustrated how small we are in the enormity of the universe. Finding joy in the little things helps me to appreciate how miraculous our lives are.
Although difficult to read, Wendy and I deciphered the engraving on Laura Matilda Towne’s headstone:
For thirty-nine years, a friend and teacher of the freedmen. Her people rise up and call her blessed.
I felt honored to stand on this hallowed ground in a cemetery outside of Philadelphia where a great woman, who dedicated her life to others was put to rest.
Being respected and appreciated for who we are is an essential ingredient of joy. Celebrating Pride with Wendy at one of our favorite places in Richmond, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, even in the midst of adversity, was a deep gift.
Watch for A Year of Joy - Part 2: July to December coming tomorrow.
I hope you’ll share something in the Comments that has brought you joy this year.
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