As I reviewed yesterday’s quotient of joy in my journal this morning, two things stood out clearly: the most satisfying and the least satisfying aspects of the day.
The most satisfying aspect of yesterday was starting from the tiniest idea for my blog post, having zero idea where it would lead, and having it develop into something meaningful. It was late when I got started. I was sleepy. I was idea-less. We had had, as you know, people over for dinner. I had spent the better part of the previous 24 hours either working in the sun outside or working in the heat of the kitchen inside. And sleeping badly, the hot weather kind.
Being a word nerd, I headed for the dictionary. That was my whole idea. Look up a bunch of related words. I sat there transcribing from the dictionary onto a hot laptop, dripping and sleepy, until the first aha. After that, I lost track of time, and the essay eventually was finished enough to hit the publish button, and that was that. When I woke up this morning after another lousy night’s sleep, I was heartened to discover that not only did I like my essay (still, the next day) but others did, too.
Hard work, worth doing. Satisfying. What had started out to be the “barely” kind of enough ended up becoming the “sufficient” kind right under my nose, and really by just allowing myself to follow that one tiny instinct on a wing and a prayer. All the creativity teachers and personal coaches and spiritual gurus and personal growth experts are right! Just do it. The answer is within. The still, small voice. Etc., etc.
The most unsatisfying aspect of yesterday was a regret. In all my busy-ness and self-absorption, I hadn’t made sure that Honey-Bear got a decent walk and time to do doggie things. Granted: I’m not perfect. She didn’t die. It was hot. I was busy. And all the rest of the lines I can and do say about my shortcomings. But what matters for purposes of the discussion around joy is the feeling my actions and omissions left me with. Regret, like guilt, is something I don’t willingly entertain, but when it shows up, I tend to pay attention long enough to understand whether it is from violation of a personal value or from carrying around someone else’s ideas of how I should live.
In this case it was a no-brainer, and I knew it. I’d made my needs more important than hers, and I’d taken advantage of the power difference in our relationship. It felt crappy remembering how impatient and self-centered I’d been, as if the only person whose agenda mattered was me. Yes, she’s an elder dog and requires special care for her diabetes, and sometimes I do well with it, and sometimes I don’t, and life goes on. But I had started the day weeping about how long of a life she had left, then I’d lived that day as if she was too much trouble to have around.
The contrast with how I approached the writing, and the results I got, was striking. There are definitely many roads to joy, and I’ve noticed that sometimes it can be deliberately evoked and others times it just comes to me, as grace. But most of the time, I have to do something in order to put myself in a place where joy can happen.
So today I aligned my day around caring for me, yes, as always, but also around caring for Honey-Bear. Knowing how much she loves to walk downtown and how she struggles to get back home, which is uphill for a long ways, I made arrangements with my partner to come pick us up, so that Honey-Bear could go where ever she wanted and I wouldn’t be worrying about whether she’d be able to make it home. Not worrying changed the entire walk. Each time Honey-Bear chose to turn farther from home, I went with it. When she wanted to cross the street, we crossed. When she headed for the shade under the pin oaks by Rite Aid, that’s what we did. I was at her service. Once we turned onto Main Street and headed up toward Center, I knew we’d need to be retrieved soon, so I called, and there was my partner with the van, and Honey-Bear ran up to it, jumped in, and back home we went.
So, there’s my story. It’s the story of the time Honey-Bear loved to go downtown, but couldn’t make it back home, so we went and picked her up, and it made her tail go higher for the rest of the day. It’s the story of how I wrote an essay out of dictionary entries. It’s the story of how I learned love is a verb and experienced the joy of being able to love in actions, not just in feelings. It’s the story of how I reflected on my day and made adjustments the next day and felt better. Or maybe it’s the story of how Martians came and got me after thirty days of blog posts.
I don’t know the whole story of this story, and I never, ever will. But believe me, they all lived happily ever after, and that’s the truth.