My List of Joy and Hope

I was reading Maria Popova, my favourite blogger, who recently quoted Kahlil Gibran from his poem Youth and Age in which he writes – “The unfolding of life does more than fray our bodies with entropy, it softens our spirit, blunting the edge of vanity and broadening the aperture of beauty, so that we become both more ourselves and more unselved,” wrote Kahlil Gibran on the Art of Becoming. I love that expression – the art of becoming – which we all are doing, every second of our life until we are … done our earthly duty. No one has it figured out, our forward movement is based on speculation and hope. And that got me thinking …

The Dalai Lama says happiness comes from our own actions, a statement that makes perfect sense to me. Happiness isn’t something presented to us like an award or a gift in recognition of our achievements. Happy is a nice space to occupy, but we all know it is not a constant. Happiness ebbs and flows like the tides, is sometimes carried away by the wind and rain. Happiness can be elusive, dressing up in a disguise so we don’t recognize it while it stands next to us.

I sometimes struggle with my mental health, not often but sometimes. This is not surprising as many of us do, it is a part of being alive and in these days of uncertainty, with the loud voices that tear away at our humanity, mental health may be even more fragile. I don’t know where the down ticks come from. I can’t chart their travel to be prepared should they arrive like an unexpected guest to find my life in disarray. I hear the knock at the door, and I know. I’ve adopted a few habits to right the ship, and though the techniques aren’t foolproof and can’t be counted on, they often do the trick.

I take the usual actions of exercise, mindful breathing, plenty of water. Sleep has always been a wrestling match and continues to be so, but I do my best to have good sleep hygiene habits. I have tried for years to meditate but I can’t slow my brain for more than two or three minutes at a time. I make sure I get adequate sunshine and fresh air whenever I can and use light therapy when sunshine isn’t available. I have a detector I use for making me aware, reminding me of that unexpected guest. It is a simple reminder – when flossing my teeth feels like too much of a chore, I know it is time to get out my book of lists and turn to the pages under the heading of Joy and Hope.

The list is a long one, compiled from years of taking note of those things that matter to me. The pages are bent, the writing not consistent nor winning any awards for penmanship, but in many ways that makes it more authentic. The smell of sheets fresh off the clothesline in the spring is one such entry on the list. The crocuses who fight through the cold and snow of fickle weather to announce with their lovely purple and yellow and white voices that spring has arrived no matter what the thermometer says. The smell of babies, their skin soft and pure, their tiny fingers finding mine to close around, their whispered murmurs in sleep, heads tucked under my chin.

As I’ve mentioned, my wee house is surrounded by giant hemlock trees. I love their sense of superiority and I bask in it. I’m not a fan of wind, but when the wind is threatening me, I worry about my safety but more in a Wizard of Oz sort of way rather than being crushed by the precious trees who stand tall over my ordinary life. The call of the pileated woodpecker, its jungle voice making me laugh, a reminder that we are never really alone.

Today I am adding to my list of hope the names of Justin Pearson, age 29 representing part of Memphis, and Justin Jones, age 27 representing part of Nashville, both Democrats in the Tennessee Legislature. They took action in the Tennessee Legislature, in protest to demand at least some limitations on the access to guns in the United States, specifically in Tennessee, who were then both expelled from Legislature. They have been recalled due in no small part to the rising up of voices across the country demanding their re-instatement. Beside the entry on my list, I record my joy at the sound of youthful voices, demanding to be heard, demanding that we do better, demanding that positive change come from tragedy. Their voices are pure and loaded with hope and the sound restores me.