“You’re turning into a beautiful red star,” says Mom one morning, eyes shining with conviction as she peers at me from her perch in the bed. I am suddenly smitten with my celestial …
“You’re turning into a beautiful red star,” says Mom one morning, eyes shining with conviction as she peers at me from her perch in the bed. I am suddenly smitten with my celestial possibilities, swept away at this latest uplifting and mysterious message from the Joy-bringer, a sprightly soul who moves through life making the best of an increasingly challenging situation.
At 86 years, and 92 pounds, my favorite joy-bringer (Dot) is a mini marvel of what it means to stare down the ravages and limitations of aging while maintaining a positive perspective. The unavoidable losses can be overwhelming. That’s how it often goes in the advanced years of life and the evolving environment of Alzheimer’s disease—a mindscape of ever-shifting perceptual states.
Later, I realize the inspiration for Mom’s declaration of my potential stardom was likely the glittery red Christmas stocking hanging near her bed. But in this moment, its magic makes me feel—unexplainably—happy.
Joy is a funny thing—both simple and profound, silly and serious, a solace and an ache that’s hard to define. It warms the heart, lifts the spirit and shines a light against the pervasive sense of darkness that sometimes shadows us. Joy makes you feel good on the inside, which radiates outward in the form of smiles, laughter, good cheer, even “happy tears,” that can dislodge darker emotions like grief, anger and despair. Joy is healing.
At a recent family gathering, Mom was swept into a blissful state by the presence of those she loves most. Raising her cup of tea over and over again, she proclaimed enthusiastically, “Cheers everybody!” Lifting our glasses high in response, we vigorously echoed her happy message repeatedly in a volley of laughter and lightheartedness.
At the Scranton Co-Op Farmers Market, Mom spreads happiness to vendors and shoppers alike as we wheel her around in her small wheelchair. She greets all with a grin that pulls people in as she bestows blessings and her heartening advice to “Be happy!” We’ve nicknamed her Mayor of the Market for the infectious way she spreads good cheer.
Caught off guard by her unbridled joy, total strangers wander over to grasp her frail hands and receive her gift of the heart. Faces are transformed as smiles emerge and eyes light up. Vendors come out from behind their booths to give her cookies, apples, hot cider and other treats. Musicians dedicate tunes to her as she “conducts” the band with graceful sweeps of her hands. Sometimes the music stirs her to her feet and she rises unsteadily to wiggle around. We scramble to keep her from falling to the ground.
She’s also great at giving praise, and seems to know just when to say the heart-lifting thing that someone needs to hear. “You’re all perked up like a brand new girl!” she exclaims to her 93-year-old friend, Feenie. “You’re a silver-haired wandering wonder!” she tells me with spot-on observational acumen. Fortunately, I am not offended, and in fact, find this delightfully hilarious.
But Mom isn’t the only joy-bringer in my life. Every morning a tuft of spiky fur emerges from under a pile of blankets. Two shiny black marbles peer at me to see if it’s time to take on another day. My eyes lock on Raven’s as a smile spreads across my face. A vigorous thumping of her tail comes from under the covers—the Happy Wagster is awake!
A spark of joy bounces back forth and forth between us, lighting both of us up. Off we go to romp a bit in the freshly fallen snow. Back inside, the sprightly spinning begins as the feisty little terrier wipes the white stuff from her black whiskers. She is clearly cracking herself up, unwittingly igniting laughter in me.
The joy amplifies as her canine pal, Ziva, enters the fray in a mock battle of mouth-boxing, vigorous chasing, acrobatic whirling and terrier-rizing. Ziva’s deft maneuvers and precision earn her the prize for style; Raven wins the award for tenacity, despite a substantial weight disadvantage.
I get a mirthful sense of merriment from observing their clever antics and later, a sense of quiet joy to see them cuddled together in front of the woodstove.
When I stop to think about it, there are so many things that give me joy—the return of the hummingbirds every spring; the barred owl that shares our forested yard, calling in the wee hours of night; getting outside to hike a trail or paddle one of our gorgeous local waterways; spending time exploring the wonders of the natural world with my camera; sitting in the garden as dusk closes in and a deer or bear ambles across the hill behind the house; playing piano or guitar and singing; listening to others do the same.
I feel more joyful just writing these things here.
To be given the gift of joy, whether intentional or by happy chance, is a valuable offering indeed. For certain, life has its share of pain and suffering, sorrow and regret. How can we hedge our bets against the heaviness that can seem so overwhelming?
Look for the joy-bringers in your life. Ask yourself who and what makes you happy. Resolve to spend more of your precious life time in their company in the coming year. Being with the ones you love most and doing the things that bring you joy are sure bets that you will find yourself simply more joyful in 2023, and quite possibly “perked up like a brand new person!”
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