I just watched a documentary called The Long Goodbye. It’s about a Christian woman, Kara Tippett, a wife and mother of four, who shares her experience with dying from the moment she learns she has breast cancer to the moment she passes.
As a religious woman, she believes there is dignity in suffering; that there is a purpose to it. So much so that she reached out to 29-year-old Brittney Maynard, who chose death with dignity, and urged her to live on through her terminal brain cancer.
“There is dignity in suffering,” Kara says.
To suffer is to be human, yes, but even more so, to feel joy is to be human.
As a society, we often hear that to know joy we must know suffering.
“All things are difficult before they are easy.”
Really? All things?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Or it just kills you.
In a way, suffering has been marked as a rite of passage; that things need to be hard to be fully appreciated.
I think that’s bullshit.
There will absolutely be difficult moments in live–saying goodbye to loved ones when they pass, not getting to say goodbye to loved ones when they pass, losing a job, feeling heartbreak, snaking the bathtub drain of your rental–shitty, hard things. But there is also soooo, four ‘O’, much potential for joy.
Suffering can offer perspective, sure, it can remind us to cherish the good parts, but I simply do not believe that we must experience pain, sorrow or hardship over and over again to feel joy, peace or contentment.
To know joy is to know thyself; to be able to recognize when your heart is full. This is often the hard part.
Who am I anyway? What bring me joy? What does joy even feel like?
Sure, there are things that we know will achieve this, for some it’s cuddling babies and for others it’s not cuddling babies, but it’s so easy to get caught up in rushing around, distracting ourselves, to notice when we feel.. well… good! Really good!
Sometimes we rush around so that we don’t give ourselves time to feel the good feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to be numb; for things to be hard, to feel sorry for ourselves.
To settle. To accept defeat.
There is a time and place for that, I suppose; to retreat; reset, but I’m over that being the norm, for me, anyway.
From here on out I intend to seek out moments of joy as much as possible.
The word joy can be defined as:
- The emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires; the expression or exhibition of such emotion
- A state of happiness or felicity
- A source or cause of delight
North America’s dominant culture is fuelled by acquiring, moving, doing. Success is largely attributed to achievement of the following:
- Post-secondary education
We strive to check these boxes, but in doing so, we sometimes forget what it’s all for.
Why does it matter? Does it even matter?
It feels like we are always striving for something: a gym body, money, a job title, shoes…
I have had all of these things, and none of it made me feel as good as I do when I hear my nieces and nephew laugh as they chase each other around the raspberry bush.
It really is that simple.
If I could have one thing in excess it would be moments of joy.
“Ashley, tell me more about what it means to feel joyful?
Oh you… of course I will!
At the end of September, I flew to Vancouver Island for a three-day festival of love (My best friend’s wedding) in a small, remote logging town north of Sooke.
We had hoped there would be waves, but it was the shoulder season and it wasn’t likely that a north swell would roll through.
And then it did…
Jordan River was pumping at a time of year where it doesn’t often pump.
Coincidence? I think not.
I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the break before low tide, but I drove to the spot anyway… just to see.
I saw the cars on the road before I saw the wave. When I rolled into the parking lot it was full of vans and trucks. The shore was lined with spectators and there were 20 – 30 wet suited bodies bobbing on their boards.
The wave was technically a beach break, but because of the shape of the rocks underwater and the swell direction, it was working like a perfect point break peeling to the right.
I watched the wave for a few minutes before stripping down, peeing in the bushes and getting suited up. As I worked my hood over my head, an awkward undertaking at the best of times, I asked the guy parked beside me who just got out of the water for tips. After a two minute tutorial on rocks and channels he wished me well and I paddled out.
The sky was the most perfect shade of blue. The water was cold, but the air was warm and there was no wind. After catching a few waves, I paddled back into the line-up, closed my eyes and held my face up to the sun. My lobster claw-encased fingertips grazed the surface of the ocean and I said a quick thanks to the sea for this epic September gift.
In that exact moment, bobbing on my board in a 5/4 wetsuit, booties, gloves and a hood, I felt utterly at peace and full of joy.
“Remember this moment,” I said to myself. “Remember how you feel and how little it took for you to feel so much bliss.”
When I think about the moments that make me feel like I did in the sea that gorgeous fall day, I am reminded of the simplicity that is required to feel so much joy.
It helped to make a list.
- Swimming in the ocean
- Listening to the sound of the ocean
- Walking about in the mountains
- Coffee, especially in bed
- A good yoga class with a great teacher
- Every single moment with my nieces and nephews
- Dinner with my family
- Bubble baths
- Laughing out loud
- Bakeries and eating anything that comes from a bakery
- A message from a friend who was positively impacted by something I wrote
- Reading in a hammock
- Feeling the sun on my face
- Inside jokes
This list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, but it helped to take the time to actually think through the things that make my heart feel full, my face light up and my soul at peace.
On this New Years Eve when many of us are setting intentions/goals/resolutions for the year ahead, I encourage you to think about what’s on your list?
When was the last time you laughed out loud, smiled to yourself or felt at peace? What were you doing? Who were you with?
I believe deep in my soul that in our final moments on earth, regardless of what we believe is on the other side, these are the moments we will come back to; the moments that will define us.
“She loved the sea,” They’ll say as they scatter my ashes in the surf. “She was happiest outside, near the water, laughing in the waves with her friends, and celebrating a sunny day with her family.”
And then I hope they’ll do their version of those things; more joie; more vivre.