I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.
What does it mean to be fully alive? (Apart from the heart-beating, blood-pumping, organs-working description.) What else does it mean?
Certain thoughts, feelings, images rise up for me: being in the moment, fun, blue skies, zestfulness, unexpected laughter, a sliver of a moon, expansiveness, an embrace, energy, big trees, happiness, small puppies, love.
As I tug on the thread of this question, it unravels into a riot of colorful yarns and bits of fabric. All massing towards this answer:
BEING TRULY ALIVE IS THE WAY OF JOY.
Joy. Such a ubiquitous word. And if I look it up in the dictionary I see other similar words: delight, pleasure, gladness. But then I start to wonder, Is there more to it? Is the joy of the rose as much about its thorns as its petals and scent?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, thanks to two compelling posts by blogging friends. First, Tess of The Bold Life wrote about a town whose citizens measured their lives not by years lived but rather by accumulated moments of happiness and joy. Next, Belinda of The Halfway Point explored the possibility that human beings have the capacity, even in the worst of circumstances, to turn pain into joy.
And so the thought comes to me that perhaps we limit our definition of joy by shutting sorrow and hurt out of it.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit I first brushed up against this idea long ago. During the last leg of high school, graduating seniors were asked to encapsulate all of their experiences into the tiniest bit of text, which would then reside next to their pictures in the yearbook.
You’ve probably seen these mini masterpieces before. If I’d been following the crowd, mine might have gone something like this: Patty remembers the explosion in chem class, beach walk w/Marc, BFs Deb & Lora, Brooke’s Brood, Sausalito kisses, & It’s a Beautiful Day.
But, no surprise, I was not following the crowd. In fact, I was bound and determined to say something IMPORTANT. So here’s what appeared next to my photo: Both pain and joy carry equal weight and measure; one is the thin thread that leads you through the other.
Sheesh, who was that chick?
I did regret it a bit afterwards. Especially when my older brother’s extremely cute friend thumbed through the book. Settling on my picture, he read my words aloud. Then he looked up at me and said, “Huh?”
Oh well. In spite of my one-sided crush on him, our future together was not meant to be.
So I put aside those words and went on with life. Yet now, decades removed from that 17-year-old girl-woman, I see that she probably had a raw inkling of some other country that exists between pain and joy, a land where the two merge and we have a felt sense, an experience, of being alive.
In that land, we cry during the most joyful experiences: weddings, births, graduations, retirements.
We see humor in the most challenging moments: illnesses, lay-offs, close calls.
And we go there to find a way through when we lose loved ones.
That truth stopped me in my tracks again last night when I sat in a pub watching Olympian Joannie Rochette skate with a beautiful, bittersweet mingling of joy and sorrow. If you don’t know the story, her mother died unexpectedly a few days ago. And without a doubt, her skating was a life-affirming experience. A reminder of what it can mean to be truly alive.
Like songs often do, it eloquently reveals the point I’ve been struggling to make with mere words.
So as I wrap this up today, I encourage you to go get your socks knocked off and watch Raul Esparza sing the full version on YouTube.
But I want to sing it for you too, my rough, abbreviated, a capella version. It’s my way of wishing you the joy of being alive. A small experience of it. All of it. You can click here to listen:
WHY NOT START NOW?