I am sitting on the blue rug in my classroom with three little boys. Guilty, they wait for the final verdict from me and if they are lucky, a pardon. I look at one, and ask the question, “Why did you push Little Girl on the playground?”
Pause. I can see the wheels turning in his head.
“Because,” he answers, “She roared like a lion at me and I thought she was a weel lion.”
“Little Boy,” I say firmly, “You know she is not a real lion. You know that, right? There is a difference between what is real and what is not real,” I say, disbelievingly.
“No,” he insists. “I thought she was weel.”
He looks at me insistently while the two other accomplices barely flinch. They are working out in their own heads what creature they can devise for Little Girl to be when the time for their grilling comes down the line.
If a travelling vaudeville troupe was auditioning for casting calls in my neck of the woods, I’d be the first one to sign up. It has been quite a day, or as we say sometimes at school, “whadda day.” It might take a clinical psychologist to give me valuable insight on how to speak to the mind of a five-year old delinquent, adorable as he might be sitting there before me on the mat. I hardly know where one begins unravelling the mysteries hidden inside the five-year old brain.
My own little pumpkin, now turned five herself, came home from the babysitter’s the other day. She was playing play-doh quietly at the table when I came in the door. I could see that her mood was a bit blue, so I asked her how her day was.
She reported to me a litany of grievances she had with a couple of children at her daycare. I gave her a hug, and I asked her, “Why do you think they were mean to you?”
She looked at me with the most serious of expressions and then matter-of-factly replied, “Because…they’ve got sin.”
So, I guess she has them pegged.
I have just come downstairs from tucking Littlest One in bed. She would not go to sleep alone this evening, so I lay down with her and held her tiny hand until she drifted off. I watch her sleeping, so peaceful. Her cheeks still full and plump, hair framing her face. She asked me just before falling asleep, “Mama, what did you do today?”
I could not bring myself to answer. What did I do today? It blurs behind me like a streak of black ink poured from a fountain pen.
My days have been challenging lately, and today, a few unforeseen events seemed to be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Discipline issues, work challenges, parenting dilemmas, relational breakdowns, insecurity, insensitivity, disappointment…you name it. It all came flying at me today. And at the end of the day, here I am wondering this: Is there really any joy to be found? Am I fooling myself with the pursuit of joy which cannot be found?
I almost said it today: I hate joy. The very idea of it taunting me in the midst of my pain. “Feel joy! Feel joy!” it laughs at me. The pursuit of which, the bane of my existence. The pursuit of joy: it is the search for gold at the end of the rainbow. The elusive, the hidden. The tunnel without a light at the end.
I hear a still, small voice remind me again and again, for I am a slow learner. “Joy is not a voice, nor is it a feeling. It is not a figment of my imagination. It is a choice.” So I will persevere until I find joy again and claim it as my own.
If there was ever a reason to feel joy, it is now. I know this in my heart of hearts, and so I write to experience it again. Joy. The ability to rise above difficult circumstances and therein feel contentment. Joy. Gratitude winning out over Disappointment. Joy. Inner peace that requires nothing from without but everything from within. Joy. Contentment with who I am, where I am and what I am at this very moment in time.
Will I ever know it for sure?
Joy. I almost felt it had slipped from grasp. Like sand between fingers, it slips away. How easily we confuse joy with happiness. But the latter does not preclude the former. I can seek out joy even when I feel anything but happy. It begins with a choice: I choose joy today. I refuse to be robbed of this moment, this fleeting window of time.
I choose joy.
My children, they remind me again and again of why I must soldier on: they are four precious reasons for choosing joy. It is my legacy for them, this pursuit. It is the example I leave for them to follow. What more valuable of legacies could I ever leave than to instill in them a desire to pursue after and know joy? I can think of few better gifts to give.