"What brings me joy is life. I think you can find joy anywhere in life. I think it's a conscious choice. I think you choose joy. And no matter how bad things are, no matter how crummy, how dark, no matter how many times some guy named John kills your ass, you find joy."
I have a hard time thinking about America these days. Every time I cross the border, I'm struck more deeply by the parts of my home country that break my heart. Houses along the roads collapse into themselves in varying states of decay; highways have potholes that haven't been filled in all the years I've driven around them. And, more and more every year, cars and billboards and walls in gas stations are covered in decals and signs and t-shirts displaying slogans to demonstrate who is and isn't welcome. I spend the first hours of every trip to America holding my breath against these things. They leave me dizzy and tired.
On these same trips, though, I spend time in communities and drive through neighborhoods, places that matter to people. Places they fall in love and raise their babies, organize potlucks and send their teenagers to prom. Places that people choose to care for every day. The people who wear those awful t-shirts and the people who build literal and figurative bridges live beside one another, if not peacefully (less and less peacefully), then at least continuously. As long as it's still possible to share with our neighbors, I have to try to hold onto hope.
Our most recent trip included both a high school graduation and the royal wedding, both bringing joyous and sometimes silly celebrations. It can be deeply disorienting to witness this kind of reckless joy in the midst of chaos. That disorientation leads some people to avoid or dismiss the joy, to condemn the celebrations as unnecessary distractions from the ache of the chaos, but to me, it seems like taking time to celebrate and giving ourselves a break is fundamental to keeping ourselves strong enough to handle it.
On our last day there, I overheard a conversation between an adult and a child, the lesson of which was "it's ok to hope and be happy if it happens, and it's ok to be sad or angry if it doesn't work out." My own tiny toddler heart was overwhelmed by it, for a little while. I've never been great at handling disappointment; it sets me back more than it probably should, and because I fear it so deeply, I've had to be intentional in recent years about embracing hope, excitement, and enthusiasm. This small, tender reminder that it's ok to have all of those feelings was something precious in that moment.
The failures of our societies are acute and painful. They run deep, and they're hard to shake. But while it's important to recognize and mourn, it's also not only ok but vital that we hope and celebrate. The novelist George Eliot wrote, “What we call our despair is often only the eagerness of unfed hope.” Hope keeps us going; celebration feeds us and replenishes the well.
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