Tuesday, February 23, 2010

happiness vs. joy

well. here it is, already the end of February and i seem to have survived the holidays and beyond. somewhere in there Thomas and i had a good, restorative getaway together at the little mountain cabin we like to escape to every now and then. that cabin has seen us through the loss of two children now, and we're always so grateful for the generosity of the owners who freely offer its use to us. the healing has been gradual, as expected, and because, well, i've had what you might call a sneak preview of how this goes, the violent bouts of grief aren't as shocking as they once were, and they are less frequent. i am still asking what it is that i am to learn from this experience that i didn't last time, trying to make sense of the alternation between the dull acceptance of the reality that we are back to square one again in our family-making journey, and the jagged stabbing void of no children where there "should" be now two.
one of the things that has been deeply bothering me these days is wondering if i'm also actually grieving the loss of joy, which, if true, would be a fanged, nightmarish terror. yet i find myself often furious that what should be cause for joy instead gets stolen or mutilated or vandalised. recently, a local friend (who is as yet unaware of our two pregnancy losses) buoyantly announced her first pregnancy via e-mail, and i found that my immediate reaction was to want to avoid seeing her as long as possible. other friends who know my situation have shared good news of conceiving in a sensitive, solemn, and gentle way, wanting to be careful of my feelings: this i find quite generous, but the need to do so is utterly regrettable and makes me angry that they must not initially be demonstratively open with their celebration. and meeting people's "freshly-hatched" babies is always a total crap shoot: hey, i might be just fine and be able to fully rejoice in the tiny life on my lap, or i might emotionally collapse and create an incredibly awkward situation. in any case, this has left me confused, outraged, and a bit bewildered. it makes me feel like someone sucker-punched me, stole all my valuables, and left me dazed and bleeding on the pavement.
three weeks ago, the world said goodbye to author J.D. Salinger, best known for that book about a very conflicted teenage boy. Salinger himself was a supremely confused and conflicted man, but there's a quote from him that got me thinking -- it seems he once said "The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid." although some might say that the happiness/joy difference is merely semantic, i do beg to differ. i was brought up believing that joy is a long-lasting, soul-satisfying, transformative internal state of being that is a choice. happiness, on the other hand, is a more fleeting thing that is based upon circumstance and the self's pleasure. while one may think that Salinger's solid/liquid analogy is the opposite of this, i'm inclined to disagree. the "solidity" of happiness is what makes it fleeting. the "liquidity" of joy is part of its sustaining presence. happiness is rooted in a concrete time & place; it is experienced and then left behind as one moves on. joy, on the other hand, is quicksilver; it surges and moves with you, completely free of the confines of time.
so i think this is what i am wrestling with: i need to accept that solid, time-bound happiness can indeed be snatched and stolen away. and i should not try to cling to liquid, numinous joy, which will just flow through my clutching desperate fingers. the key to living this truth is, i think, to choose to commit to restoration and healing. standing still or insisting on staying in the past is what leads me to believe that those baubles of happiness should be, must be, need to be mine and that their disappearance is catastrophe. moving forward, even through emotional exhaustion or my own stubbornness, is what lets me stay with the flowing currents of joy, even if they seem to be only a trickle sometimes.