Mom’s Ode to Joy


My Mom writes an monthly article for her church newsletter and I loved December…


Thoughts on Happiness and Joy

I have never bought into “All you need to know, you learn in kindergarten,” but in my life, many of my most essential life lessons, which have stood me through decades of the test of time, were learned in high school.  One of my favorite came from George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright.  Candida, my favorite of his plays, deals with a married woman who falls in love with a poet.  The play ends with an enigmatic stage direction: “He goes out into the night….but we do not know the secret in the poet’s heart.”

Well!  We Shaw-lovers don’t like to be thought so insensitive that we don’t understand his characters!  A class at Rugby, an English school, wrote the poet asking for an explanation of the secret.  He replied, “I won’t tell you, but you may guess…”

Sadly, he found their guesses so juvenile and shallow that he was forced to tell them.  The poet was “unwilling to exchange the small beer of mere happiness for exaltation.”   For years, I lived on those words.  I agreed!  No mere happiness for me, I was all for joy……like Violetta in La Traviata who sings wildly about the joys of joy.  It took decades, and a happy marriage, for me to appreciate the enormous value of happiness.

But, like most of us, I sometimes let my happiness become “mere.”  And a visit from an adored brother has me thinking again about joy.

My brother Nick came from California for a few days last week.  He was here on a business trip, but we managed lots of family time around his meetings.  Nick is a fascinating man.  People who know him well find him exceptional for his intellect, his quirky humor, his voracious reading, his whim of iron, and his loyalty.  I have always appreciated those qualities, but on this visit, I was captivated by his joy.

Over the space of forty eight hours, he said things like, “I take such joy in my work…….seeing Sharon (his wife) in so much less back pain brings me great joy….it doesn’t matter where we eat—I am getting such joy from your company…my children bring me joy.”

And in each case, he really meant “joy.”   “Pleasure” was far too pallid for what he was communicating. What a lovely quality!  What a wonderful way to live!  Thinking about Nick is making me dissatisfied with some of my own tepid responses to the gifts in my life. 

If we were to play word association games, “JOY” would probably be followed most often by “TO THE WORLD“  Tasha Tudor wrote a wonderful Christmas book, with a tile I have always loved:  Take Joy!

But joy is too valuable a gift, too rich an emotion, too wonderful a response, to be limited to Christmas. So in this and every season, I commend her suggestion to all of us: Take joy!

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