You all have heard the terms ‘the joy of a child’ or ‘a child’s joy’. We’re talking about that head thrown back, wide open mouth, eyes sparkling with exuberant joy. I can remember my daughter Patty, about three years old, on a crisp cool fall morning running in the wind. Her white blond hair wispy around her face, flying in the breeze and her laughter light, crystalline floating past me as I watched from in the kitchen; a child’s joy at just being. It is Christmas morning, I can smell coffee and hot sugar, maybe it is sweet rolls heating as Mom prepares breakfast. The memory includes fingers to the lips to warn the younger one to be quiet as we tiptoe past the kitchen, a sneak peek at the Christmas tree to see if Santa came to our house is the goal and joy, an instant of happiness as we see the piles of presents under the tree; a child’s pure joy that the world is as we think it should be.
Whether experienced as a child or an adult, joy is usually a feeling that washes over us instantaneously. Although joy is associated with happiness, the two emotions vary slightly. Happiness resides within us and is more of a conscious emotion. Either we choose to be happy or we don’t. Happiness is a state of contentment that lives within our soul. Joy, on the other hand is experienced more spontaneously. Joy occurs in specific moments of time and can be unexpected and spontaneous. So, although G was describing her child running in the wind and experiencing joy at just being, what she was also describing was the joy she felt in watching her child from that kitchen window. As humans, we are fortunate enough to be given the gift of joy just by seeing someone else experience it. An outburst of laughter, eyes widening with delightful surprise, a smile that reaches from ear to ear; these are all contagious and is called joy. What a great gift to receive and to give to someone else.
These gifts can happen in the amount of time it takes to breath in and breath out. It seems inevitable that as we age, as our place in life changes, what triggers these mere breaths of joy will change. There is even a place between the time the children are born, are growing and changing; through the time when they are adult and acting in adult ways that we no longer find any particular joy in their behavior. Maybe this is natures way of sending us in a direction away from parenting and into our mid-life. It would be very easy to let this place of no feelings of joy stay in control of us, but it is also easy to find ways into new places, new moments of joy. At the age of thirty-eight I learned to dance; tango, cumbia, merengue, ah the joy of music and dance. At 42, I started using a camera finding, not just seconds but full minutes of joy and, finally, by 45 I was a grandmother and had come full circle learning once again what it means to watch a new life take flight.
For me, I will never know the joy of being pregnant, or watching my own child run past the kitchen window. I will never know the joy of being a mother and sometimes, but rarely, I do feel a twinge of envy when I see a young mother with a toddler. But I am not unhappy. I find moments of joy in the simplest of things; a kiss from my husband, a hug from a friend, a postcard or letter in the mail, a smile from a stranger, spending time with my sister. When I’m out on the dance floor moving my body to the beat of the music, joy permeates through to my soul. It is the only time I truly feel free and that feeling of freedom is the purest form of joy I have ever known.
Yes, that joy of a child can come to us in many forms. Even as an adult we can feel it, never being limited in the possible moments, that we can feel. What we find harder is recognizing those moments, reveling in them, letting them flow and finally in remembering. As an adult it is harder to remember to throw back our heads, open our mouths wide and smile, eyes sparkling with exuberance, letting the world share in our mere moment of joy. Try it in that next moment. Show us your child’s joy.