An Honorable Mention goes to Bill over at pinklightsabre. His essay “The Expectations of Joy” reminds us to recognize joy in the moment it happens, because it can so often be fleeting.
He was sent a Green Study Coffee Mug, a goofy Minnesota postcard and I donated $25 to the American Red Cross on his behalf.
The Expectations of Joy
By Bill at pinklightsabre
Joy is so rare and unexpected, on the opposite side of dread, which by definition seems to last longer. It’s why it’s so hard to find on Christmas morning or your wedding day because you expect it, but joy comes on its own terms. It’s like something you spot outside your window but by the time you go for your camera, it’s gone. And it doesn’t photograph well, you have to be there.
There was my uncle Frank who lived alone, never married, worked the post office, dressed in camo vests and khakis, bright orange hunter’s caps. I saw him maybe once a year growing up and the last time, a couple years ago when he was too old to drive, when Dawn and I had to give him a ride home, a good hour and a half through the folds of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, eastern Pennsylvania.
It was Eastertime and there was a lot of food and drinking, and we decided around 9 it was time to go. My dad and his brother warned me not to listen to Frank give advice about the route. The route was pretty clear, but Frank would try to tell us otherwise.
We got in the car and put Frank in the back, who was maybe early 80s then. Dawn drove, and we started small talk with Frank. It was about the towns and roads and interstate, the past construction projects, what had changed. Frank started deviating from the route as expected, and I went to hush him, to tamp him down, but Dawn agreed to follow his direction. It occurred to us in the front seat that this was about all Frank had left, his memory of how to get home, and could we allow him some bit of control over that.
The family was worried about Frank but not in an actionable sense. They said his plumbing had gone out so he was using a coffee can to pee in and going to the grocery store to do the rest. There was a sinkhole in his front yard they had taped off (all the houses were built on or near mining excavations, it seemed).
When we neared his house it was pushing 10:30 but Frank offered we could stop for a pizza, he’d buy, they were open another half an hour still. But we’d eaten all day and really just wanted to get home, and declined. We waited for Frank to make his way into the house and turn on some lights and off we went back to the interstate, the way we intended to go, that saved us about 15 minutes.
It had gotten so that I saw Frank about once every five years now. He was the same, a bit knobby with big, marbly eyes and whiskers, balding, but a good smile, still the same. I remembered him as a kid around Christmas, he would show up with presents he’d wrapped himself, a lot of Scotch tape, and it seemed strange receiving gifts from him, we were so disjointed, we weren’t really close.
The gifts were always practical things he’d gotten at Sears or Penney’s (tube socks, underwear, sometimes a belt), and I’d catch Frank flushing up and looking away, smiling, when I opened them. I think it was a bit of joy he felt then, though small. I thought about it and wished we had stopped for pizza maybe, but joy is like that too, it can’t be manufactured or revised, it comes and goes.
I was on the beach at the lake near our house with my dog throwing the ball, watching her waggle her tail, stretch, how the digits in her paws extend in the pebbles, how dogs seem to smile. There was the time when I was working my boss asked in a mid-year review what brought me joy in my job (it was a popular word at the time), and the silence became lifelike between us, I filled it with half-truths, and what followed felt like dread but it’s true, once you go down that far it’s like touching the bottom of a pool, and maybe then you can work your way up.
We were in a conference room no bigger than a telephone booth, with just a phone, a clock, a table and two chairs, and it had the feel of whatever vagueness or tension preceded us the meeting before. And we left our own for the next occupants.
My joy comes from writing, payback for all the wonder I see in the world, a way of honoring it. Like joy, it feels best when you expect less, to not put too much on it. And maybe that’s why it feels so good, once it’s revealed, joy turns its back to visit someone else.
Enjoy a little pinklightsabre sampler: