This is Joy

The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts: and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible.

– Montaigne

What is the definition of joy? The word resonates in my memories of childhood Christmases. When the angels brought “tidings of great joy,” the New Testament translates it from the Greek chara or chario, meaning a kind of rejoicing. That seems a biggish and important, trumpet-sounding sort of joy.

Yet, the word also means gladness of heart–good cheer–a kind of internal contentment that is not quite the same thing as happiness. In fact, I might almost suggest that it’s more a matter of the inner self than happiness is (at least as I understand it): less dependent upon external stimuli, less needful of fuel to burn. Joy can even be a quiet, kitten-footed thing–and I share kindred feeling for Wordsworth’s Surprised by Joy–or C.S. Lewis’ spiritual autobiography of the same name. Even in moments of turmoil and pain, joy can come suddenly upon us. I remember, for instance, in one of my darkest hours, finding renewed harmony–not in great sunsets or brilliant engagements–but in the silent sound of snow, in the purring of my cat, in the un-clenching of an abdominal knot of grief (however brief), in the taking of an unbounded breath.

And today, I have found myself in unguarded conference with joy once more–as though bumping into an old friend. I was not unhappy to start with; it has been a good season, good weather, and I have vacation time in D.C. coming up with friends and family. I was happy, but perhaps not joyful… Not at first. I was walking in summer sunshine, however, at the precise and perfect temperature of 72 F; I was swinging a wicker shopping basket full of goodies for my cat-sitter–bought from the co-op, Winona’s fine, earth-conscious and organic market; I was wandering through the light and shadow of buildings on Main street…And suddenly I thought: “how wonderful it is to be alive, to be in a town where I can walk instead of drive! To shop locally, unencumbered by excess packaging and plastic–to walk past my favorite places with contended familiarity.”

While these are not great revelations, perhaps, they come from the well springs of a contented soul. And, for me–

This is joy.

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