The other day at our house, I called downstairs to his grandfather asking him to bring a quart of green beans from the root cellar when he came up. Sabien noticed the level of my voice and immediately raised his voice duplicating mine. Then he crawled over to the stairs and “hollered” down to his grandfather. I burst out laughing. It was a perfect example of how adults need to pay attention to what they say and do around children.

The last few days have been warm enough to have the doors open and little Sabie has discovered that he can see through the screen door. Yesterday he spotted his grandfather working in the backyard and, standing on his toes, his whole body pressed against the screen, he began to “holler” at his grandfather. He made such a racket that Grampie heard him and had to come up the stairs to pick him up and give him kisses.

As I’ve pondered how I feel when Sabien is around, the word “joy” popped spontaneously into the first sentence of this piece, and it’s come up in several books I’ve picked up to read lately. Being a firm believer in synchronicity, I thought, aha! “joy.” That must be the answer to my question. But joy is elusive, something I’ve never been able to quite figure out. The dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

When I read that, I thought immediately of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge obviously had what he desired – money. But to think of him as a joyful man is beyond any stretch of the imagination. Until, that is, he was awakened by the ghosts of Christmas. In the final moment of enlightenment, Scrooge saw his folly and began to give away the treasure he’d hoarded, the thing that had made him miserable. Finally, in the act of giving, Scrooge is filled with what seems to me to be an example of joy.

The dictionary also lists “bliss” as an alternative explanation of joy, alongside “happiness” and “delight.” “Bliss” seems to get to the heart of the matter, which the dictionary says is “complete happiness” and “paradise: heaven.” This seems to fit the emotional state of poor Scrooge when he let of his need to possess what he desired. It also comes close to what I feel when I watch little Sabie. Happiness seems to be connected to feelings that relate to satisfaction of desires, a rather selfish endeavor. Joy, on the other hand, goes beyond desire to the experience of something completely outside of self. It’s almost as if it’s an experience that you happen into without any thought or intention on your part. If this is joy, then I experience it most in connection with people I love and when I’m in the natural world.

There’s a lake up north where I almost always have what I call a “spiritual experience.” One time in particular, Donnie and I had been camping there for several days. On our last morning, we sat by the lake in a state of what I would call bliss. On one side of us a moose stood in the water, grazing; on the other side three deer came down to the water to drink. An eagle spiraled directly overhead. I didn’t want to leave. It was almost as if the other world I usually live in didn’t exist. I felt as if I were participating in something way beyond myself. As I think back on that moment, I believe that must have been joy.

Tearful response

I get the same feeling when I witness my children being happy and fulfilled. Both have recently been in plays and watching them perform with such pleasure and satisfaction brings tears to my eyes. It is not their performance, but their enjoyment of it that brings on the joy. Watching my mother recover from what we thought would be her last battle is a joy.

C.S. Lewis writes in “Surprised by Joy” that joy isn’t planned. It comes upon you unannounced, he says. The book is an account of his conversion from atheism to Christianity, and joy for him came through his religious experience. I believe joy, however it comes to a person, is a spiritual experience. For me it is probably about as close to God as one can get, a sacred moment, so where else would I experience God if not through my family and the world around me? I, like C.S. Lewis, look forward to the times when I am surprised by joy. The trick is, I guess, to recognize those moments when they come and to cherish them.

Jeanette Baldridge is a writer and teacher who lives in West Paris, who is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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