Tracking down joy

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

Dan and I ate lunch out yesterday. We were surrounded by families of the newly graduated. Seeing all those happy faces reminded me that, before retirement, I cherished this time of year. School’s out is just as wonderful for the teachers as it is for the children, and I would spend the first few days reveling in the release from the lock-step schedule that is teaching. I was happy to be outside at 10 a.m., I was at peace to have the time to garden, read, cook, or go on special excursions with the kids. I miss that joy.

Joy/peace/happiness, emotions that pile on the back of each other, are sought by people everywhere. Today’s gurus suggest meditation, or centering, or, to go back a few years, to practice Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, an exercise that isn’t as simple as it may sound.

The other day I had a glimpse of my former joy when husband Dan decided he was going to take over all the yard maintenance. In the past few years, I’ve ridden our tractor/mower and Dan has done the rest.

Our old farm’s land is not subdivision smooth and when I was mowing and hit a big dip or an unexpected tree root, I would come off the seat. The tractor’s safety device would think I’d fallen off and the engine would stall or stop. To say it was extremely annoying would be an understatement; an annoyance made more maddening because in order to avoid the stall-outs, I had to mow very slowly, taking three days to finish a project that should have taken a day.

After I’d finished mowing, and as I walked my daily two-mile course around the farm, I would quietly enjoy the beautiful results. By the second or third day I would notice the things I missed, a patch of poison ivy I should deal with, or a limb that had fallen, and after those thoughts intruded, and until the time came to mow the farm again, I couldn’t get those images out of my head. The farm was an uncompleted project. Now, with big Dan at the wheel, mowing one day, trimming the next, taking down a tree, or pruning – all done efficiently and quickly, and with the responsibility of it all now off my shoulders, I enjoy the beauty of the place again without feeling the responsibility of it all. Meditation? Great. Centering? Wonderful. Beautifully tended place? Magic.

Mowing had been a roadblock to my joy. It was a small thing, but an important one. I wondered what else was I doing to impede joy? I began considering some questions: Are the regrets I feel over past events worth the energy it takes to hold on to them? Is my still smoldering anger over a long ago or recent occurrence relevant or important? If you’ve done all you can to rectify a situation, is it worth continuing to fret about? Does everything have to be perfect? Does everything have to be done, really?

These are simple, obvious questions with complicated and difficult conclusions. Books and the media are full of examples and advice that we’ve all heard many times, but hearing something and absorbing it, applying it to your life are two different things. Like any truth, you can hear it, but until you absorb it, use it, put it into action, it isn’t helpful to you.

Joy is fleeting and the questions are hard, but I’m going to continue to ask and answer my questions, facing them head on and after I’ve won the battle, I’m going to prepare to greet those resultant flashes of joy, grateful for the spark of the divine they contain, and made more precious for their infrequency.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell


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