Sensing my lack of, shall we say, enthusiasm about things lately, a good friend asks, “Where do you find joy in your life?” JOY? I want to squawk. What in the world is THAT? Thus proving my friend’s diagnosis might be too close for comfort.
Comfort, in fact, is what I feel is needed, more than joy. So I’ve been eating a lot of – well, I’ve been eating a lot. Chocolate tends to dominate – it’s as close to a sure thing as I know of – but I’ve been having trouble delineating the times for meals from the times for not having meals. Emotional eating, they call it, shoveling in the comfort food. In part, this is a good thing, because one my medications shut my appetite off so sharply last year, it was all I could do to shove a miniscule piece of lasagna into my mouth before saying miserably, “I’m full.”
That wasn’t good. But I wasn’t prepared for the counter effect of the new drug my neurologist prescribed, in her ever-hopeful quest to make my head pain-free. Hoo boy, did this one whet my appetite. Where I used to eat a square inch of my pork chop and either sneak the rest back into the serving dish, or give up all pretense and just plop it on my husband’s plate, now it’s me battling him for the last heel of garlic bread. Those Betty Jane chocolates in the heart-shaped box aren’t going to last long.
But enough about food. My friend was talking about real joy, not a bandage to cover up the bruises from crawling through the desert too long. I had to think hard about this. What is joy? Is it zest? Delight? Euphoria? Does it go so far as bliss? Elation? Rapture? Transport? Or is it less manic, more subtle, a knowledge that dawns on us that this, right here – this is what I needed?
My husband used a different word to talk about it. He said everyone needs “oases” in their lives. That jazzy song by Maria Muldaur sprang to mind, because my mind is like that – easily overtaken by ear worms. But this concept he was describing wasn’t jazzy, or zesty, or euphoric. In fact, it felt a lot more like the word I started with: comfort. Which, another friend tells me, means “courage.” My courage could definitely use some boosting.
Maybe you’re lucky, and you don’t feel the need for an oasis. But its opposite – the desert – is a metaphor for all kinds of joy-draining moments in our lives. Enduring the long board meeting. Driving that dreary stretch of interstate. Returning home to a dark house, alone. Hearing bad news on the phone. Overseeing the care of a sick family member. Bearing a chronic illness yourself, and feeling progressively invisible and hopeless. Think about your own deserts – you’ve probably had your share. You may be longing for respite even as you struggle with your obligation to be the good mother, good son, good neighbor.
True oases often surprise you, appearing where and when you least expect them. But you’ll know they are real by the way they buoy your spirits. That’s how you know they’re not a mirage
So here, in no particular order, are some of the oases that have given me comfort, some short-lived, others more enduring:
- Browsing book stores with my daughter.
- Picking up the phone and hearing “Hi, Mom!” from my son, who calls me about as often as most grown sons call their mothers.
- Reading books of poetry the way you read a novel, from front to back.
- Flowering trees in full, knock-out bloom.
- Family. See above.
- Friends. Ditto.
- Libraries, preferably those where I don’t know the entire staff.
- Deanne’s chocolate sauce, made and consumed all by myself. Some pleasures should not be witnessed.
- My Aunt Ethel and Uncle Albie’s house, where we spent so many holidays. Now I can only go there in memory.
- My corner of the sofa, with a stack of magazines.
- Music. John Mellencamp. Five for Fighting. Joni Mitchell. The Allman Brothers. I used to put “Hitching Post” on every time I was at home alone
- The cottage in the woods in northern Wisconsin. Every spring, we spend almost a week there. Every time we leave, it gets harder to close the door. So I need to focus on the being there. Mindfully. Joyfully. Maybe I’ll see another bear this year! And hear my favorite bird, as high up in the trees as he is on the scale.
- Eating Indian food, from just around the corner. Thank you, Hot & Spicy.
- Driving to Madison for food, films, family.
- Non-holiday days. No special food, no tiresome traditions. Just another day requiring no pomp or circumstance.
- Sitting in a perfect coffee shop, where you can linger with your laptop as long as you want, as long as you keep your empty coffee cup in full sight.
- Opening a door in a new place and finding it contains not the closet you expected, but a whole, beautiful room.
That’s my list for now. The thing is, the best oasis can be the one you weren’t expecting, like the restroom in the gas station scented with a canning jar crammed full of purple lilacs. Your oases may not look the way you expect them to. It doesn’t matter. It’s the way they make you feel –rested, understood, restored – that counts. After all, I’ve never seen that white-throated sparrow that sings in the trees around our Wisconsin cottage. I look and look, forgetting that it’s the song that really matters, and that the woods where he resides is an oasis for both of us.