Tag Archives: joy

“Some Sweetness”

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“Grab somebody, come on down/ Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town/ Oh there’s some sweetness goin’ ’round/  Catch it down in New Orleans…You wanna do some livin’ before you die/ Do it down in New Orleans…” The Princess and the Frog, “Down In New Orleans”

My final morning in the Big Easy started slowly.  I packed in a quiet apartment, before my hosts were awake, and thought about how quickly it all had passed.  I was so nervous about the trip, about everything involved, and now I wanted it to last indefinitely.  I straightened up the living room and tip-toed over the creaky wood floors, savoring each minute left in the city.

R and I drove back to the French Quarter for breakfast.  Early on a Sunday, it was just coming to life.  Families strolled the streets and vendors unloaded their wares.  It was just beginning to stretch out of sleep as we wandered in.  We walked down to the Mississippi River.  The Mississippi River.  It was surreal, something out of books and history, something huge and untamable.  We stood on its banks in the warming sun, staring out at the rippling water.  I may as well have been visiting the rings of Saturn.  It was all so mythic.  It was smaller than I thought, quieter, but still magical.

We walked the banks back to the historic Cafe du Monde.  Standing in the winding line, we watched people pass and eat.  We inched into the shade of the cafe, thankful for a little relief from the ever-hotter sun.  We picked our way to a table in the back, ready for the heavenly beignets to arrive.  We swooned over the cute children, covered in powdered sugar, being wheeled in in strollers.  Realizing that there is no dignified way to eat a beignet, I dove in.  R laughed as a fine, white dust settled on her black dress and I fought to find a way to bite without sugar coating my entire face.  Eating more than we should have, I finished my plate, reminding myself of Robert Frost’s insight: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/ I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Breakfast at the Cafe du Monde!

After  breakfast, we walked back to the car, taking a detour through the French Market.  Looking through used books, shot glasses, produce and drinks, I picked up a small souvenir to send home and we hopped back in the car and headed to church.  I was a bit nervous about going to church, but R wanted me to see it and I wanted to enjoy all of her New Orleans.  We pulled up under a tree and she pointed out that we were parked next to a few of the remaining Projects.  Even they were beautiful.  Red brick houses with old trees lining the streets made even the neediest part of the city enchanting.  We walked into the building and I immediately felt out of place.  After growing up Protestant in a Catholic school, I still feel unwelcome when I attend mass.  I sat alone in the pew as R ran to the bathroom, and looked around the sanctuary.  Transported back to my theology classes in college, I noticed a lot about the church without speaking to anyone.  It was bright, open.  The colors were light and welcoming.  The Stations of the Cross were closer to folk art than anything else and beautiful.  R pointed out that there is only one crucifix in the building, and it is off to the side of the altar, out of sight.  People walked around, some praying, others chatting.  The choir warmed up, piano music floating through the room.

The choir leader emerged from behind the piano, which was adorned with a Saints pennant.  She walked to the front of the sanctuary, dressed in a Saints jersey, black leather pants, and a gold chain belt.  She talked to those of us who were seated, explaining the new language that has been added to the mass and how to follow along.  She was lively and funny, engaging as she readied the congregation for mass.  Then the service began.  The music was enlivening.  The piano played, a horn and saxophone joined in, a drum kept time and a tambourine made appearances.  People sang with joy, the priests swaying at the altar as they did.  Everything that could be sung was, and it was sung with zest.  The mass was familiar but new, welcoming in ways it never was before.  We sang the Lord’s Prayer.  We sang “Peace Like a River” after the sign of peace, which was mashed up with Sinatra’s “When You’re Smiling.”  It was a party, relevant and accessible in ways that I had never felt before.  The mass, which was the same one we crashed at the cathedral, was tailored to its congregation, meeting their passions and needs beautifully.

The priest’s homily hit me deeply.  Tears flooded my eyes as I realized why exactly I loved this city.  He talked about giving to Caesar what is his and God what is His.  He talked about life, how it is fleeting and the important things are what belong to God.  “Amens” filled the air as he continued, a far cry from the silent, formal masses I knew from childhood.  He talked about money belonging to Caesar, because it is stamped in his image, and us belonging to God, because we are created in His.  He instructed that we are to give everything to God, because our lives are His: money, time, burdens, joys.  As the mass concluded, the recessional hymn was a game day tradition: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  And then a “Who dat?” chant started.  R grinned widely, at home in room of people in love with life and their city.

We got back in the car and I tried to explain what I was thinking and feeling.  We drove through New Orleans and down to the 9th Ward.  She explained the Ward system, described different neighborhoods, and prepared me for what I was about to see.  As we rolled through the streets, I caught glimpses of gutted houses, rotten porches.  Spray paint still marks homes, though I didn’t even want to ask what it all meant.  As we arrived in the Lower 9th, I was fascinated by it all.  I had expected something frightening, a graveyard of houses.  I imagined dark, decaying messes, frames falling apart, destruction everywhere.  In fact, there were cute little homes, brightly colored, all over.  They were smaller than the ones on St. Charles, but I couldn’t help but love them too.  She explained that every empty lot I saw was once a home.  I saw quite a few, filled with dirt or looking like a lawn with no home to claim it.  We crept over the jagged streets and asked if I truly understood what I was seeing.  I apparently wasn’t.  There were plenty of clear lots, but there were also countless homes in fields of grass, reaching at least shoulder-height.  These were once homes too.  What looked like a house built on a lot with meadows surrounding it was a neighbor to an un-kept lot.  Then it hit me just how much was missing, what was lost.  It was weird, driving past places where people died and entire lives were lost.  We talked about whether we would come back, if we lost everything, or if we would just rather not see it all.  She showed me the homes Brad Pitt was helping rebuild.  They were cool, but couldn’t hold a candle to the beauty of the aged New Orleans.

We got back on the Interstate, driving toward my trip home.  We passed through a massive cemetery, lining both sides of the freeway.  White tombs litter the graveyard, housing generations of families together.  They keep the dead away from the mud and rain, keep them buried in the storm.  As I hugged R goodbye, I was sad to leave it all.

I tried to explain to her what I had fallen in love with.  New Orleans is a city at ease with tragedy.  It is violent.  Cemeteries litter neighborhoods.  Brass bands lead funeral processions.  Katrina still lurks, a scar that they cannot shake.  In the middle of all of this is Bourbon Street, children dancing in church, artists lining the street.  There are festivals and music, drinks for everyone and hospitality freely shown.  It is a city with every reason to mourn and fear, but it chooses life.  There is a choice to live the little time we have, to accept that it will end, and the determination to taste all that we can of this world.  The passion and zeal of the city are inspiring, it bursts with energy and celebration.  They dance for marriages and deaths, communion and touch downs.  It is the opposite of my life–vivid and electric.  It refuses to give up or grow up, greeting each day like a child: twirling through life with wonder and radiance.

“Mardi Gras is the love of life.  It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living.  All at once.”  Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic

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Weddings and Flowers

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“The best things in life are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

This is delayed, but tonight I collect my thoughts about the royal wedding.  I admit, I was more than happy to wake up in the middle of my night to watch two strangers marry.  I was excited, not sure of what to expect.  I just knew, as I went to bed, that I wanted to wake up and be a part of something historic, to watch with millions around the world. 

I was sad, when I flipped on the television, that I had missed most of the ceremony.  I thought I had calculated everything right, but I was misinformed.  I was hoping to see Kate walk into the church and barely got to see the couple walk out.  But I stuck with the newlyweds.  I watched them leave the church, ride away, kiss, and begin life, husband and wife.  I did this with a joyful heart.  The much-anticipated dress was lovely, but so unexpectedly ordinary.  It could be on any bride, fit any ceremony.  The two walked down the aisle and the future king gave side glances and small smiles as he met familiar eyes.  They invited friends and family and the people who sell them candy. 

The thing that I loved so much about the wedding, what made waking up more than worthwhile, was the splendid ordinariness of it all.  Yes, they are royalty now.  Yes, it was expensive and pretty.  But they were a happy young couple committing to life together.  The now historic second kiss they snuck was incredibly unrefined and loving.  The stories of Prince Harry’s “survivors’ breakfast” for the guests who could stay up all night was exactly what a best man/brother should have done.  The queen, after the royal reception, left the castle to the couple and friends.  Yes, it was a castle, but it was not much different from the wedding of my friends.  It was beautifully, refreshingly normal. 

That same week I went to see the famous flower fields of Carlsbad.  I had wanted to visit them last year, but did not make it out before they closed for the summer.  I was so excited to go see these acres of blooms.  I wanted to practice a little photography and see if I could get a good shot or two.  I woke up early, made the drive, paid my entrance, and excitedly entered the fields.

The fields were pretty.  There were a lot of flowers.

There were many kinds of flowers there. 

I am glad that I went.  I wish that I had gone a little earlier in the season because some of the flowers were starting to wilt and die, but it was nice.  It just wasn’t the overwhelming experience I thought that it would be.  Perhaps I had built it up too much in my mind, but I expected…more.  I expected breathtaking.  I expected.  I may have expected too much.  I liked the flowers, but had thought I would be inspired, I would fall in love, I would rave about it and never want to leave.  I was satisfied rather quickly, much faster than the driving I did to get there and back.  These famous fields simply were not as great as I thought that they would be.  In fact, possibly my favorite part of the field was a mistake, something only I seemed to notice:

It struck my, on the way home, that it was the ordinary, the unexpected that moved me.  This magnificent flower patch was pretty, but it did not make me feel like I had hoped it would.  Instead, I thought about the yellow flowers (okay, weeds) that line my route to and from work.  The wall of yellow against the freeway, following the river bank, makes me happier than most things these days.  They are my flowers, my spring, my joy.  Today I spotted this poking through the parking lot fence:

I made sure to return and take a quick picture of it on my way home from the grocery store.  These are the things that I love deeply.  They are the everyday.  They are the common beauty.  They make this city of concrete and this world of pain a little more friendly and beautiful.  They are the free, accidental gifts of life.  They are quiet and simple.  This is what made the wedding great, the flowers stunning: the unremarkable.  The simplest things bring the most awe.

Happiness is just outside my window/ Thought it’d crash blowing 80-miles an hour?/ But happiness a little more like knocking/ On your door, and you just let it in?”  –The Fray, “Happiness”

some very small things

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“Our lives are made in these small hours/ These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate/ Time falls away, but these small hours,/ These small hours still remain…”  –Rob Thomas, “Little Wonders”

I tend to return from a trip home to see my parents with a certain loneliness.  It’s sad to go back to my empty apartment, listening to the roar of the freeways instead of the wind rustling in the trees.  My laptop is warm on my knees, but not as cozy as our dog curled at my side.  It can be a bit hard to pull out of this funk because I miss my parents, miss my home, and am floundering on my own right now.  I miss the security and companionship and comfort of home. 

Yesterday I decided, in order to help myself feel a little more upbeat, I would make and send some Easter packages to my brothers, who are now both away from our home for the first time.  I had the best of intentions and picked out things to remind them of our childhood Easter baskets and the excitement of that morning.  I even spent the better part of the afternoon tracking down ingredients and testing recipes for some cookies one had asked our mom for.  I didn’t make it to the post office.  I couldn’t find packaging tape.  I made some gross cookies before getting the right recipe from our Grandma and making some good ones.  And I felt like a failure.  My good intentions and high hopes were ruined and I couldn’t pull it all together.  I was disappointed and saddened, but amidst this, little things brightened my day.

I have come to really, really enjoy PassiveAggressiveNotes.com.  A lot. My best friend introduced me to it, ironically, after we reminisced about how we lived with a girl in college who only communicated through rude post-it notes.  Now I love checking in on the stellar communication skills demonstrated on the site.  As I struggled to haul my bags up to my apartment, I was greeted by a wonderful example of my own:

The envelope was clearly one sent for returning an invoice or something else to a sender.  The ample scotch tape is classic.  I love that someone else saw the note and decided to add, in different writing and ink, who the note was “From:”  And the kicker is the paper towels, torn up and tucked inside!  I should have been disgusted, for sure, and probably annoyed with my neighbors.  But I was tickled!  I laughed out loud and, clearly, felt the need to photograph it.  I loved it!  This literally made my day.

Then I dyed eggs.  I have no one to hide them for, no one to hide them for me.  I will probably not get around to eating all of them before they go bad.  But I realized that I had not dyed eggs since I was in high school, and I desperately wanted to.  So I bought some vinegar and a cheap dye kit and got to work.  I wish I could say that they were stunning.  They should be artistic, impressive, something far superior to those of my youth.  Martha has taught me better than this.  But they were nothing special, nothing exciting.

Yes, I cracked some eggs boiling them.  No, they were not spectacular.  But they made me so happy.  Knowing that they are sitting in my fridge makes me happy even now.  I am excited for egg salad sandwiches next week, because that’s part of Easter, but I’m also sad to think about the fact that once these are gone, my eggs will be white again. 

I’ve tried to find little things to make my day because the big ones seem to be few and too far between.  While creeping on a friend’s facebook page, I saw that one of her friends recommended a blog to her.  The title sounded promising, so I browsed through it.  I now love it.  I loved the pictures first, because I wish I could take good photos.  And I wish I had beautiful little girls to dress up.  Now I love reading the posts, hearing her thoughts, sometimes nearly my own, sometimes very far from them.  I highly recommend a look at Enjoying the Small Things.  If nothing else, it brings a smile and reminds me to keep looking for the little moments, the things that make days good. 

Until the big things come along with some certainty, the little things will have to do.  And that’s okay, because big things can be overwhelming and confusing.  I’m not sure what I will do with a new job or relationship or home.  I am sure that my Easter eggs make me smile.  For today, in this tiny moment, that is enough to be sure of.

“Human felicity is produced not as much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day.” –Benjamin Franklin

“I’m feeling very Olympic today.”

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“They’ve done everything you’ve asked of them! And they did it with all of you laughing in their face. Hey, it doesn’t matter tomorrow if they come in first or fiftieth. Those guys have earned the right to walk into that stadium and wave their nation’s flag. That’s the single greatest honor an athlete can ever have.”Cool Runnings

Though the story is sports legend, I think that the film Cool Runnings is incredibly underrated.  I’ve loved the film since it came out, leaving its mark on my childhood.  The underdog story, redemption and determination, cliché as they may sound, cannot be told enough.  It is also difficult to call the film cheesy because, by and large, it happened.  But this is not a defense of the comedic stylings of Doug E. Doug.  It’s about what is striking me as I watch the Olympic figure skaters glide across my television screen.

Every time I hear Irv address the committee that disqualified his team, defending the men that he coached and telling them about the pride that comes with representing one’s homeland, I’m overcome with the image he presents.  While the opening ceremonies tend to be tedious and long, the men and women marching under their nations’ flags always gives me chills.  There is so much hope and excitement, so much joy to be known as American, Canadian, Swedish, Peruvian, Kenyan, or wherever they come from.  No matter the state of the world and politics abroad, these athletes somehow transcend the mess that they may come from.  They stand proud, representing the best that their home has to offer.  They are work and pain, perseverance and perfection.  It is only rivaled, perhaps, by the awarding of medals.  As the athletes wrap their flags around their shoulders and the arena is filled with their national anthem, it brings tears to my eyes.  There is recognition and fame that comes to the athlete, but it’s also something bigger, something that their entire nation joins in.  They do not stand alone at the podium, march alone into the games.  They bring a people with them.  I cannot begin to imagine the overwhelming pride and humility that must battle within.

And then there are the medals.  The ultimate sign of success, a symbol of excellence.  No other award, no matter the prestige it carries, can quite compare.  There is something different, definitive, immortal about an Olympic medal.  However, more than any other award, more than any nomination or contention, I think that the bigger honor comes from being included.  To train, which seems such an insufficient word for their efforts, and reach Olympic qualification is, itself, a victory.  To be among the best on earth, the elite, is itself honor.  I do not think that any athlete would refuse a medal or try not to win, but I would think that being a part of the games, being a part of history in that capacity, would be surreal. 

I’m not sure what it is about the Olympics that gets a person like me so revved up.  I don’t watch the Super Bowl, let alone other sporting events on television.  I’m not a sports aficionado.  However, every other year, there is something magnetic about the athletes converging and competing.  There is something beautiful and peaceful amidst the fierce rivalries.  There is hope.  Hope is palpable, emanating from the tv.  There is hope for the athletes, to see the reward for their faithful labor.  There is hope for the nations, to have their children bring honor and victory home.  There is hope for humanity, that we can come together, win together, cry together, lose together, and simply be together. 

“Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”Cool Runnings

JOY to My World

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“Even stop lights/ Blink a bright red and green…”  –Silver Bells

In the realm of retail, Christmas means working harder, faster, longer hours.  There is nothing particularly joyful about this time of year.  We are overworked, underappreciated and often the target of Scrooges, Grinches, and people simply tired of lines.  It’s not the happiest season of the mall.

The other night I was leaving my job at midnight.  As I walked to my car I reveled in the stillness and quite of the empty parking lot.  I drove down the length of the mall, a little irritated at the late hour, ready to be home and in bed.  It was a striking sight, however, to see the empty street.  No cars lined up for spots or shoppers dashing across streets.  Bags didn’t cram carts and noise didn’t bombard my ears.  It was literally a breath of fresh, cool air.  Despite the oddly pretty solitude of an empty mall, I still resented working so late.  As I came around a bend in the road, all that frustration and cynicism and ugliness melted away. 

Through the buildings, I could see the Hilton hotel.  Illuminated in its windows was “JOY.”  Simple, succinct and glowing before me was a reminder of what Christmas really is.  This is a time of pure, true joy.  It’s surrounded by family and traditions that I cherish.  It’s a time when friendships rekindle and people want to be close in ways they don’t at other times.  It’s delicious food and presents and parties.  But, more than anything, it’s hope.  The birth of Christ meant hope for mankind, for a broken people.  It is hope of relationships being mended with our Creator and each other and a hope of life.  There is nothing more joyful than hope. 

I have found myself feeling especially happy lately.  It has been a lasting, deep happiness that I don’t really remember enjoying throughout my life.  I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that this is a time of year that I love for the aforementioned reasons and more.  It’s also the result of different friends and interactions and reflection.  But it’s a feeling that, more than anything I think I’ve felt before, feels like lasting joy.  It was such a small reminder of the big things in life.  Not the customers who complain and cut in line, or the inadequacy of my Christmas budget.  I have a family I love, friends that I love, a job and home, food and health.  There is no reason not to be joyful.  I know that sounds so trite and insincere, but seeing it blazing across a building, I realized that Christmas is above all a time of joy.

“Tis the season to be jolly and joyous/ With a burst of pleasure, we feel it all right/ It’s the season when the saints can employ us/ To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive…”  –The Muppets’ Christmas Carol