“Most of all, we can decide to walk gently through this last great stage of life when everything begins to come together for us, to make sense, to have new meaning. We can simply sit and watch a sunset, since we are not rushing home through traffic as the sun goes down.” – Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years
I don’t think it’s possible to define the word “joy” in any sort of really useful way. Joy is free. It is not something that you can catch in a butterfly net, so to speak, and add to your collection. You can’t order up a serving of joy like you can order up a fancy meal in a restaurant.
But we can experience joy. That’s the good news here. And when we do experience joy and express joy then our lives have meaning and they bless the world of which we are part.
I stepped outside our front door a few moments ago and stood on the porch of our little town house to listen to a bird that was singing close by. The singing was amazing. It went on and on. Talk about joy in expression. I realized the bird was perched at the very top of the large blue spruce tree that sits a little distance away from our front door.
I realized, too, that the bird was not alone. After it had sung for a little while it would stop for a moment, and I would hear another bird begin to sing, as if in response. They kept this up for quite a while, singing to each other – and of course, to me.
Surely joy has something to do with giving the gift that is ours to give, and honoring the unique quality of character that is ours to express. We know joy, as Joan Chittister suggests, when we appreciate the beauty and wholeness of which we are part.
I sometimes think that when we come to the end of our lives, what may be most important to us is not our great accomplishments so much as the simple moments — like the moment which follows — when we touch the magic of creation and our oneness with all creation.
A moment of magic
I have always loved the sea, and soon after emigrating to British Columbia from England in 1955, I bought a 22-foot sailboat. It had a small cabin and a 4hp inboard engine. Life was a continual challenge for the little motor, perhaps because it was getting on in years, or perhaps because it had not been installed properly, and sat at a rather odd angle in the bottom of the boat. I was never quite sure if it would be able to rise to the occasion and do its job or not.
I named my boat “Vision,” because it was the promise of a new land filled with giant forests and mountains that had drawn me to British Columbia. Despite the objections of my parents, I longed for freedom and open spaces. I read Robert Service and Walt Whitman every day, and rebelled at life in the busy streets of London.
While working as a junior reporter in Fleet Street I had sailed a 16-foot sailboat on a river in Essex, but I had never done any coastal sailing. So it was an excited, but inexperienced young sailor who set out one spring day from Victoria on a cruise through the Gulf Islands.
The weather was sunny and warm, and for awhile everything was great. The water was blue, the sky was blue, and I sang happily to myself as I sailed along. And then suddenly – because of poor planning on my part, no doubt – I found myself in a difficult and intense situation as I tried to navigate through a narrow passage against a strong rip-tide that treated my little boat with utmost derision.
A strong wind began to blow
Sometimes I thought I was making headway, but then I would look at the nearby shore and think I was fooling myself and my boat wasn’t moving at all. As my motor sputtered away and the water swirled viciously around me, I saw small whirlpools here and there, and adding to my worry, a strong, gusty wind started to blow. I kept looking nervously at the engine, wondering if it would be able to bring me through the rough, chaotic currents. But it did. It was magnificent. It hesitated a tad now and again, but it kept on going.
After what seemed like hours I finally exited the pass and emerged into open water. A little later, with evening falling, I came to the entrance of a beautiful cove. Talk about a change of pace. Now I was surrounded by soft evening air and a stillness that was palpable. There was not another boat in sight as, with just a whisper of a breeze, I ghosted across the velvet surface of the cove.
It was a wide, spacious cove and as I floated across it in a pool of silence, the shore a friendly, protective presence all around me, I felt at one with everything. I was one with the water, the land, the sky, and the stars that peeped out to say hello. Some words of Robert Browning came to mind: “God’s in his heaven – All’s right with the world.”
As I think of that memorable day I realize that joy is not limited by time, for the joy that I experienced as I sailed in perfect peace into the safety of an unknown cove in British Columbia many years ago has gone nowhere. It is with me now as I peck away on my keyboard, doing my best to give the gift I am here to give.
My love and best wishes are with you. As always, I’d love to share any thoughts you may have on the above.
Picture credit: Matt Li