During a Zoom meeting in the early days of the COVID pandemic, a man in New York City suddenly gasped, “Oh, wow!” Then he said, “Wait a minute.”
Everyone waited a little nervously as he disappeared from view. Soon he was back. “I can’t believe what just happened. A flock of seagulls flew right down the middle of West 49thStreet! And then, at the corner, they all turned right and headed down Eighth Avenue. The firefighters came out from their station to watch!”
At Radical Joy for Hard Times we’re dedicated to finding and making beauty in wounded places. But a big part of the joy in RadJoy is opening up to little blitzes of beauty and wonder during our own hard times. A startling, wondrous sight or sound, like seagulls flying the “wrong way” down a one-way street normally clogged with traffic, bestows a gift of grace on the one who witnesses it. The firefighters were just as delighted as the man in his apartment. Such experiences hint that some relief or happiness or resolution, if not imminent, is at least imaginable. They also remind us that, in the midst of our own suffering, other inhabitants of the Earth, human and non-human, have things to do and places to go and that, if we’re lucky, their agenda might just brush temporarily against ours.
When those moments of amazement occur, our inclination may not be to greet them, but rather to shove them away. We might dismiss them as inappropriate, as though only sorrow and worry have the right to occupy our minds and hearts. We might fear that by permitting ourselves a bit of delight, we’re being disloyal to other suffering people. Or we may worry that by tumbling, even for an instant, into the arms of happiness, we’ll lose our credibility as a suffering person.
Opening up to awe isn’t wrong or rude or selfish. It’s a way of graciously accepting medicine from the great mystery. These moments probably won’t change our circumstances, but they can utterly change our relationship to those circumstances.