I wrote a Facebook update recently in which I raved about a lot of happy things in my life at that moment. And you know what I felt after posting it? Guilt.
I felt guilty that I was in a good place, knowing that not everyone is, knowing that some people are very unhappy. And politically, socially, economically, there is so much that is wrong with the world. “Who am I to be happy?” I felt myself asking. “And if I am, I shouldn’t tell everyone about it!”
As I read down my friends’ status updates, several of them seemed to be having terrible days – the worst. And suddenly, I wanted to take mine down, and retract what I was saying. Amend it with, “Well, of course there are these issues/problems/challenges in my life. Don’t worry, I’m struggling too!”
Today, a friend posted a quote that felt like a response to my initial guilt:
“There is nothing wrong with loving the crap out of everything….Never apologize for your enthusiasm. Never. Never. Never.” (Ryan Adams)
A deep part of me believes that experiencing joy is a large part of why we are here. So why are we sometimes so afraid to embrace it?
Last week, I stood for a while on a sunny downtown bridge, watching people and water and boats. I could have stood there for hours. Children waved to me from school tours on the boats going under the bridge. A woman called out to a boy from the bottom of a boat to the top, where he was giggling with his friends. A man standing next to me on the bridge watched the same things I was watching, barely moving, a slight smile on his lips. Couples walked by holding hands; friends walked by chattering. A woman on her way to an interview asked me to check her hair.
Small, shared moments.
And the water, and the sun, and the sky. It was all so beautiful.
As I stood there, I wondered if anyone had ever jumped off of this bridge. And if so, why did they do it? It isn’t as high as the Golden Gate, unfortunately known as a destination for the depressed. And, conversely, the river doesn’t exactly look inviting or refreshing. It would be a quick jump and a long sink into uncomfortable waters. But perhaps someone has done it.
Why was I wondering about people jumping off the bridge? I’m not sure exactly – my mind wanders in odd patterns sometimes. But I remembered a hot day in Oregon several years ago, when I jumped from a tall cliff into the clear and icy cold waters of Crater Lake (the deepest, clearest lake I’ve ever seen).
That day, that experience, has stayed with me for years. It has inspired, for me, at least one performance, some poems, and some attempts at artwork. It was such a freeing experience, to step off of that cliff and fall, and fall, and fall – longer than I had ever fallen anywhere, and to feel the water enclose me, then rise up refreshed and excited to do it again. There was nothing like it.
And I wonder: How is falling related to joy? Is our fear of one related to our fear of the other?
We instinctively fear falling; and I’ve long thought we fear certain forms of joy – such as “falling” in love (falling apart?) – for similar reasons. Besides, happiness (like falling) isn’t very dignified.
And yet, falling can feel so good. A release. An acceptance. Surrender. Enthusiasm.
As I was cleaning out some files yesterday, I came across a note I wrote to myself a few years ago towards the end of a long, hard winter. It seems relevant today, now, with these thoughts of falling, and joy, and making space in my life. Here it is:
I see the day coming when I can emerge again. I look forward to stepping out, still wet around the wings, into the dew that has just arrived post-winter, everything damp, wet, growing, earthy, light.
I am moving through the last of the tunnel of winter, airplanes, negotiating critique with kindness, and too many hours spent in dry, dull meetings. I have been sprinting through this marathon, and I am tired.
What will happen when I cross the finish line? Will I collapse? Party? Drink a big glass of water? Throw up? Pick up my belongings and head down to the local sandwich shop to meet friends as if nothing had happened?
I see an opening. I see myself at my big sunny worktable, writing. And maybe letting myself walk and dance and meet my friends round the corner for coffee. Life will slow down and open wide, all at the same time.
Can I be still then? Can I be patient, not force anything, look around and see what’s good?
And then I gave myself some advice:
Wander a bit, ‘chelle. Wander in the woods and get lost. Enjoy being lost. Enjoy the space that gives you. Travel. Make beautiful and difficult theatre. Write things that wake people up. Teach people to be in their bodies. Remind everyone around you of their individual beauty. Give yourself all the things you wish for the ones you love. Go on an adventure. You have lots of time, ‘chelle. It’s your time. Be selfish with it.
And so I have. And so I am. Or at least, I keep trying.
Several years later, and here I am again, having jumped, having fallen, having emerged, in multiple areas of my life… continually climbing back up to the top of that cliff after each jump, and doing it all again – falling and emerging, falling and emerging – with enthusiasm and yes, even joy.