The Next Time Joy Comes Knocking

I've witnessed a couple of sad moments with my little one recently. The first one happened on the day of her stepping-up ceremony at school, where she had received a balloon in the shape of a little dog on a leash. We had just finished a long conversation about how fragile balloons are, how they don't last a long time like other toys. She held the balloon dog carefully, a few inches above the pavement. Then, so full of joy that she couldn't contain it in her little body anymore, she started to skip.

The second her foot left the ground, it touched the balloon dog. And the balloon popped. Much grieving ensued, to which the entire neighborhood can attest.

Then a similar thing happened today. It was time for the post-library cookie break, and she clutched the box of cookies to her chest as we crossed the street to sit down on a bench. Her body was extra-animated, the bounce and sway of glorious anticipation seeping out of every pore.

Two steps from the bench, the lid came loose, and most of the cookies met their demise on the 5th Avenue sidewalk, which is far beyond the realm of five-second rules. There were still a couple left to eat, but our hopes of sharing our bounty tonight with friends dropped into the trash can with the soiled goods.

I watch her lately in moments like these with a really familiar ache in my chest. So this is how it happens, I think. This is how we learn to steel ourselves against joy. This is how we learn that it's best not to bust out skipping, best not to let our bodies express too much of how we feel, or to celebrate too early (or at all). This is how we learn that where joy shows its face, sorrow is sure to follow.

And this is how it came to be that when Joy comes knocking, we're quick to say, No, thanks. We're not interested, and then close the door quickly before anyone gets hurt.

Joy's not safe--I see my daughter experiencing this first-hand. Joy means you care, it means having a vulnerable place in your heart--delight--opened up wide and defenseless. Joy means throwing that heart over some invisible line, that heart that is like a hollowed-out, hand-painted egg shell. Impossibly beautiful and impossibly fragile. Out in the big bad world, outside of its protective case, and it's just a matter of time or even seconds before it shatters all over the 5th Avenue sidewalk, far beyond the realm of five-second rules.

No wonder joy terrifies us. No wonder we're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the cookies to fall. For the balloon to pop.

Joy demands so much courage to stay in its game. I'm thinking of this now, and hoping I'll be brave enough to answer and invite it in, the next time joy comes knocking.