Joy. It’s in short supply. Or is it? These were my thoughts as I awoke last Sunday in a familiar swirl of anxiety that greets me each morning. I can’t help it; chalk it up to an unstable childhood. Thus, I have plenty of daily experience turning that dread-ship around into something more palatable — like unease or maybe even calm. But joy? How the heck did my troubled mind jump to that bubbly yummy etherealness called joy?
I recall resisting the urge to grab my phone off the nightstand in order to scroll the news and check the time to calculate how little sleep I got. Instead, I stared at the light filtering through the blinds on my silver sage walls. And as if two roads miraculously diverged before me, a choice materialized.
One road led to swallowing hard and getting up to get going. ASAP. The other road said “Joy.” That’s it. “Joy.” Like some twinkling fairy godmother pointing at me with a wand saying, “Yes, you. Have some Joy.”
What’s this? Am I in some hokey Lifetime movie?
Just then, I remembered an NPR podcast about New York City subway employees during the pandemic shutdown in March 2020. The ticket agents were designated essential workers, even when so few people were riding the subway due to fear of COVID. They too were afraid.
These agents started putting bottles of Joy, that ubiquitous dish soap, into their booths as a message for others, a talisman of hope. As I listened, I could see that yellow plastic bottle I grew up with — its exuberant J-O-Y lettering — and discovered they were right. It made me smile.
I felt a need for my own bottle — that and a deep respect for what these men and women encountered. They showed up day after day for a job that was so exposing. Fact is, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority suffered more COVID deaths than any other agency in New York City. And still? They brought Joy to work.
As I got out of bed, it felt like I had a clear choice. Choose the same ole worries or choose joy. Seriously? Hadn’t my subconscious heard of the delta variant or watched the news? Then came the bullseye question. Is joy possible? Even in the face of … well, fill in the blank.
Yes. Yes! Came the answer from somewhere. I looked under the bed and in the closet and was left with the conclusion that somehow, I had answered affirmatively.
That’s when it hit me. Joy is a choice. Not all the time. But it’s not in short supply. Joy is available, whenever I’m ready and willing.
Of course, it’s easier to access joy when something turns out the way we hoped. But this pandemic has been a sustained “things aren’t turning out the way we hoped” kind of thing. A year and a half of holding our breath that some kind of “normal” can return is a lot of disappointed expectations, not counting profound loss and suffering.
While I give myself a pass that joy hasn’t been on my emotional menu of late, I gently nudge my innards to remember that it’s in there somewhere. Like that jar of whole grain mustard that I know is in my refrigerator though I can’t find it. It’s there. Just relax, Carole. The mustard is there.
So, too, the joy.
This is when joy shines a spotlight on all the things I want that I already have. My relationships, my vocation, my backyard, my cup of coffee, my sense of humor, my silver sage bedroom walls. All of it. I love all of it.
It reminds me of Wendy Mnookin’s poetry, “You thought I’d give in to despair. But today is today, everywhere I look. And I look everywhere.”
May we all look everywhere and, now and then, find Joy.
Carole Vasta Folley is a Vermont award winning playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.