I’m a realist, who is really just a pessimist who stopped guessing at the terrible future before him and started studiously paying attention to the terrible things happening in life, all around him: in the news, on the Internet—even in the supermarket. Oh, better not forget this part: and concluded that this world we live in is a pretty shitty place.
I’ve always taken a certain (sad) pride in my “realism”. But a blog by a very particular friend (we started as bitter enemies and then realized the ground we stand on is more common than we could have possibly imagined) got me to thinking last night.
Jericha Senyak, one of the most unique, intelligent, and inspiring artists I’ve had the pleasure in this world to meet and call “friend”, wrote about joy. No, that doesn’t do her article justice. She wrote about people discovering the joy in their own lives, all around them, from the tiniest fleeting feeling of joy (perhaps the instant the rising sun tops the horizon just enough to illuminate the wonderful day ahead) to the grandest of times (a wedding day, or the miraculous birth of one’s child). Her point, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase it, is that we can each find joy somewhere in our lives, from the materialistic to the deepest of true emotions.
Jericha has asked readers to express the joy in their lives, whatever that may be, no judgement whatsoever. It’s a scientific experiment. Or it’s as unscientific as they come. That’s the whole point: you decide. Please do me a HUUUUUGE favor: if you care about me, this blog, Jericha, or (most importantly) yourself, please take a moment and go read and comment on her site:
As I alluded earlier, it’s always been a challenge for me to express my joy. If I am being honest, it is because I feel like for every joyous moment in my life there has been a (very scientific) equal and opposite reaction.
My first son was born in 1991. He was my everything. I diapered him, fed him, soaked in the joy as he lay sleeping on my chest (generating enough heat to be considered one of the top ten reasons for global warming). I taught him how to ride a bike. For each of his birthdays from his 2nd to his 5th, I made him a “themed” cake (trying to remember them in order: Puppy, Troll, Power Ranger, and Batman). I played catch with him in the back yard. I dropped him off and picked him up from school. I was chaperone on one of his field trips (Because I was the big “ex-football-player dude”—which I can only assumed meant to the teacher I could “handle them”, I was matched with the threesome of two of the most troubled kids in the class and my son—a joyous day because I was able to spend it with my boy AND we made it through the experience with no one dying or anything of value in the museum being ruined; an excruciating day because these troubled kids never stopped goofing off, not once).
As he grew into his pre-teen years, I drove my son to every early morning hockey practice (5 AM), even picking up his friends along the way and getting them all some breakfast. I never missed a game. I watched every second of every practice. This continued into his actual TEEN years.
I list these things above not to apply for Father of the Year but rather to point out that every one of those moments, days, whatever brought me tremendous JOY.
When he was sixteen, my son decided that being able to make his own decisions (continue lying to his teachers, mother, and anyone else who would listen), smoking pot, and barely pulling enough D’s to graduate, was way cooler than living in a household where we did not tolerate those things and expected him to do his homework, never lie, not chew tobacco, not smoke pot, and not download pornography to his computer. He stopped coming to our house (we had a 50/50 custody decree) and stayed full-time with my ex. He stopped speaking to us, then began telling anyone who would listen what a horrible father I was, breaking my heart into so many pieces I never could figure out a way to glue them all back together again.
Until, in 2007, a miracle happened. After five years of post-cancer trying—after we had (somewhat calmly) accepted the fact that a child was just not to be for us—my second wife and I got pregnant. (HUGE JOY) The due date was New Year’s Day 2008. (COOL JOY) We had to schedule a C-section for the day after Christmas, when our OBGYN would return from his holiday vacation to deliver our boy. My wife’s water broke at 3 AM Christmas morning. So we drove to the hospital in a gorgeous, light falling snow in the darkness to see the only Christmas Baby born that entire day at Skyridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colorado. Gorgeous and perfect in all the ways for which each parent prays. (MAJOR INDESCRIBABLE JOY)
Two months later, on February 21st, 2008, after this little bundle named Brody (second son, in Scottish) redefining what joy was to me—after nearly changing this realist to the most sappy optimist this side of Whoville—our angelic, healthy, ruddy, perfect baby—our Christmas gift from on high—died of SIDS.
Equal and opposite reaction.
(LIFE PUTS A HOLE SO LARGE INSIDE MY HEART THAT IT’S INCAPABLE OF CONTAINING ANY MORE JOY EVER AGAIN)
2008. Our worst on record. That same year my wife lost her father (four months after her son), we had to put down our beloved dog, and my wife was laid off.
(HOLE BECOMES LARGER AND DEEPER, ENTIRELY TOO VAST FOR ANYTHING TO SURVIVE WITHIN)
Now it’s four years later. Not nearly enough time to figure out what to do about the void within.
So I write. And writing brings me joy. In small increments, yes. Fleeting, because the hole cannot contain such joy yet, yes.
But joy just the same.
I see my books sit there, not selling any appreciable numbers. The realist inside me taunts. He scoffs. He laughs out loud (at me, not with me). I will never be without sorrow again, he says. He promises me that much. Success will elude me.
But a funny thing happens:
“Pity confounded Pruett, challenged his self-respect. He knew when given purchase, pity anchored itself to a man’s heart, soothing him, making promises—keeping him company in the low hours until a man cleaved to it; until he worried more about it leaving than staying.”
I do cleave to it at times. I think subconsciously I do worry more about it leaving than staying. It’s what we humans do. Battered women who stay; unhappy men and women who remain in hopeless relationships; most of us, who stay in jobs that suck the life from us, foregoing our real dreams, for all of our lives.
Change is hard. It’s scary, even when it might be for the better. Even when it’s CLEARLY for the better.
I’ll quote Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules, in Pulp Fiction (a movie that brings me great joy):
“I’m trying, Ringo; I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”
I am trying. It’s one of the reasons I will continue to write, infusing my characters with real hearts and real souls and a real burden of sorrow—and I will continue to allow them to find redemption and hope and try to believe it will, through catharsis or time or even through miracle, happen for me, too.
Hope brings me joy, Jericah. That is my answer to your question.
Hope. The rope by which I will lower myself into the deep cave I’ve allowed to be carved inside my being so that I may begin filling it in, from the bottom up.
Again, dear readers, please go to Jericah’s very joyful (but unscientific) piece about joy, read it, and tell her what brings you joy. That act will bring her joy, I promise. And me, too.
Jericah called me a mensch and for as many times as I’ve read the word or heard it used in movies and television, I realized I had no idea what it meant. So I asked. She told me, and the poetry of her answer gave me joy:
“The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”
Wow. If I could live up to a fraction of that, I’d be joyous for sure.
That means to me that we humans should have character, rectitude, dignity, and sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.
Which summarizes what I’ve believed all my life.
I’m sitting here now, basking in the glow of hope again. And joy.
The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.
P.S. It ALWAYS brings me joy to demolish the blankness of the white page.
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