21 July 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “joy” this week. It kept coming up in songs, movies, and books until I was forced to realize maybe the universe was trying to tell me something.

It all started on Wednesday.  Matchbox Twenty’s “Overjoyed” came on the radio. The song’s protagonist tells his lover that he will understand her when no one else does, but mainly Rob Thomas sings about how happy he would be if she let him come over and see her. It's not about a booty call, it's about getting to be with her in some much more significant way. “I cannot overstate it, I will be overjoyed,” he sings.

I started thinking about that sentence and how cynical we’ve become to true joy. To tell someone that you will be overjoyed to see them is to make yourself really vulnerable to their not feeling the same way. To say it is to express a notion of unbridled happiness that comes from being with someone else and we live in a world where we’re expected to hold back and be too cool to express outright, undiluted glee at something if we’re over four years old. Why is that? 

Yesterday, I watched a screener of “Springsteen & I,” a documentary made by fans about their relationship with The Boss. In one segment, they were asked to describe Springsteen, or how he makes them feel, in three words. The word “joy” came up frequently. Jon Stewart, who, like me, is a massive Springsteen fan, once described being at a Bruce concert as “unbridled joy.” I agree. In the pit at a Springsteen show surrounded by others of my kind as his music, and if I’m close enough, sweat, washes over me, is pure joy for me. Some of my happiest moments in my life have been at a Springsteen show. Nothing exists for me but the music and the feeling it gives me.

This morning, I began reading “Tattoos On The Heart” by Father Greg Boyle. As I wrote earlier this week, I interviewed him on Wednesday for an article I’m working on.  I bought his book while I was at Homeboy Industries, the gang-intervention program he started 25 years ago. In the book, he talks about God’s love for the gang members just as they are and that the distance many of us feel from God comes from our trying to limit him. “It has been God’s joy to love you all along,” he writes. Regardless of your beliefs, what a wonderful way to frame love. Instead of saying “I love you,” think how powerful it is to say “It’s my joy to love you.” Sometimes, love feels like an obligation, but to word it this way makes it an ultimate pleasure. Imagine if every parent told his or her child, "It is my joy to love you" what a better world it would be through that one simple act.

Joy can come in the form of a whisper or a scream. It can come from seeing the first rose bloom in the garden each Spring as a sign of life’s constant renewal or it can come from seeing an old friend or from hearing a song that reminds of a better time or from walking about a city filled with a sense of discovery and possibility.  

Joy is that feeling that your chest might explode, as if your heart has suddenly swelled with too much love. It’s wondrous and unexpected every time we experience it. It comes with a freedom that no other emotion brings in quite the same way, with a weightlessness and light that lets you know that in this very moment, and it may be a fleeting moment, all is right in the world. 

This is joy.

This is really joy.

The Child Welfare League of America builds coalitions between public and private agencies that help children. Since 1920, their goal has been improve the lives of abused and neglected children throughout the U.S. According to Charity Navigator, it is a good charity that has run into financial trouble and needs our help. Help them bring some joy.

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  1. I last saw Bruce in 2008 with my oldest daughter. Danny was ill and not there, and Clarence was not the same. But it was awesome, joyous, didn't want the night to end. We tried so hard to get together last summer for the Wrecking Ball tour, but it didn't happen. Then, a few weeks ago my youngest daughter called and went on and on about the Mumford & Sons concert she went to in Austin. She talked about it for days. Now, it seems well all want to re-connect somewhere at a concert. I think you hit on the reason why. Thanks!

  2. I see so many parents with their kids at Bruce shows and it seems like such a joyous experience to share! I loved your story. Amazing how music does what it does. Hope you get to a concert with your kids over the summer!