My “brand,” for want of a better term, has been “comfort and joy,” but the truth is that I have been doing my best to load heavy on the “joy” part. I find joy in colors – in wild, bright, nearly-neon shades of pink, orange and green. I have teacups in every color of the rainbow. I wear eyeglasses that are splashed with many colors. I love color.
I’m currently listening to “Learning to walk in the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows up at Night“, by Barbara Brown Taylor. The author’s soothing voice is a reminder that life isn’t always colorful. We have spent generations filling our world with light – chasing away the darkness. We’ve lost the ability to take comfort in dark things – dark places. Her voice came at me through several podcasts in a short time. On an impulse, I turned in an Audible credit and downloaded the recording. I’m so glad that I did.
I’m the first one up in the house most mornings. I flip on every light switch I pass, filling the house with the artificial sunlight emitted from all of those high-efficiency LED light bulbs. The author asked questions, and I pondered, “When was the last time that I truly sat in the dark? When did I last watch the night sky and watch for the stars to appear?”
It seems that August and September each lasted about 10 minutes. Here I sit, already part way through the month of October. My beautiful summer garden has begun to turn brown around the edges. The petunias are bearing their last blooms; the herbs are going to seed. Winter is Coming (sorry). With Winter comes long nights. With my windowless office, it is far too easy to arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark. I must be intentional, some days, to glimpse the sunlight at all. The vibrant orange roses I purchased a week and a half ago have finally turned brown. I rinsed the apple-green vase and stored it away.
Emotions can be dark, too. We can confront dark emotions without being consumed by them. I’m amazed by the videos of dangerous creatures – night creatures – like wolves and bears and foxes that make their way into backyards and play in the pool or on the trampoline. I find delight in watching their apparent joy. Had those homeowners been frightened by the beasts and turned on the security light, flooding the yard with artificial sun, the animals may have scurried away into the forest. Instead, they sat back and allowed something magical to happen, and those videos have brought happiness to thousands, like me, who will never experience the sight.
In the wake of my mother’s death last year, I pursued joy like a drug. I purchased yarn in bright colors, hoarded away in quantities it will take many months to deplete. I asked for (and received – thank you, darling) a room painted a yellow (called “joyful,” no less) in which I could sit and do happy things while looking out the window at happy colors. Honestly, the room hasn’t received much use.
No, I’m not currently depressed. I’m just coming down off of an artificial high. I’ve never used recreational drugs, but I’m told that some so completely deplete serotin – the happiness hormone – that it’s difficult to feel happy after coming down from the high. Those same substances, administered by a professional, can be used to combat serious issues like PTSD. Like those drugs, “Joy,” I think, is best in small doses. It’s much more special that way. Seeking out joy is hard work. An item is only novel a time or two, then unless it is connected to a special memory, it begins to lose its magic. It becomes another pretty thing to sit on a shelf and dust.
Instead of running from garden to lake seeking perfect sunrises and sunsets (filled with fuschia and orange), I’m going to take a look around at all of the perfect,ordinary, taken-for-granted blessings. There is beauty in ritual – in the mundane.
I’m not swearing off of joy – I’m just trying to find a rhythm – to get back to appreciating the ordinary. To enjoy comfort while at the same time allowing darkness – sadness, melancholy and longing – to creep in where I can watch them from a safe distance.
My dear aunt and uncle in Arkansas recently sent me a gift – a video of my mother and her siblings in 2009. One sister had already taken up residence in heaven – but the rest of them sat and told stories about growing up – about Christmas and toys and the poor family who stole milk from the cows because their children were hungry.
That DVD sat on the table in the foyer for more than a week. I was afraid of it. I don’t know if I was afraid of seeing my mother’s face and hearing her voice. I don’t know if I was afraid that she might say something about me and my failures as a daughter. I can’t truly describe the nature of my fear. I just know that I felt it.
After moving the disc from one room to another, I finally popped it into the computer, sat back with a pot of tea, and watched it end to end. I allowed the tears to come. I allowed the grief to come into the yard and bounce on the trampoline. I allowed myself to laugh at the funny parts, too.
Like the wild animals playing on the swingset, though, dark emotion is a wild creature that for those of us who have found our way back from depression must be respected for the wild thing that it is. Like the woman filming the black bears, I can watch sadness from the safety of the kitchen window, but it would be foolish to invite it into the house and give it a place at the table.
I would never go out into the yard if a bear was there, but I might brave the night to see how close I could get to a fox or a raccoon. I would face fear of the dark for the potential experience of seeing something special up close.
If you never go out into the dark, how will you ever see the stars?