Light Rafts for Flagging Spirits | Vol. 20: On Joy
On what brings us joy, friendship, happy surprises, and other fodder for making hearts lighter in the darkest of times...
Last week, I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in person for at least two years. She’s one of those connections that doesn’t need to be tended to fastidiously, regularly, or, it would seem, even in the flesh to remain true, deep, and soulful. I was so glad to see her blissfully smiling face, to hug her around the neck, and laugh together while lifting heavy things with a small group of other women working on our fitness on the grass, bathed in warm winter sunshine, the ocean roaring in the near distance. Between squats, crunches, and planks, we caught up a bit on what we’ve been up to (and not) since a pandemic changed so much about our daily lives.
As we climbed back up a beach staircase from a quick post-workout plunge in the still-very-cold Pacific, she asked me about my Substack dispatches and whether I was still doing them. Apparently, these “Light Rafts” have been a source of discovery and yes, joy, for her. Over the last many months, I’ve heard similar things from other folks, both strangers and those I know IRL. “You know what? I’ll take that word, Lisa, thank you,” I told her. If these little lists of things that I’ve found life- and joy-giving or light-bringing and hopeful are meaningful for others, I should continue crafting and sharing them. To wit … I’m baa-aack.
I’m not sure how regularly I’ll be able to crank these out, but I will do my best and share them, along with other new writing, photography, video, and perhaps even a bit of audio, in the coming weeks and months. Thank you for reading, sticking with me, for the encouragement and for sharing these dispatches with others who also might find them heartening in some fashion.
So, without further ado, here are a few things that brought me joy in recent days. I hope they provide similar solace and inspiration for you, too.
1. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu | Mission: Joy
This one is time-sensitive, so if you resonate with it, don’t delay. From now until the midnight on March 4, this simply marvelous documentary, Mission: Joy—Finding Happiness in Troubled Times, about the friendship between His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the late, great Archbishop Desmond Tutu is available to view via Tricycle magazine’s film club HERE.
The two spiritual titans share a bond that is visceral—affectionate, fraternal, mischievous. It’s as if their relationship created a spiritual stereoconvergence, combining twin forces of resilience and faith into a juggernaut of joy broadcast to the world. I defy anyone to watch these two giggling and taking the piss out of each other without at least cracking a smile.
It’s well worth the $6.99 to subscribe to Tricycle for a month to watch 90 minutes of two of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time, who forged a perhaps unlikely and profound friendship based on mutual respect and, in many ways, a shared quest to foster joy and show the rest of us how to find it even when everything seems hopeless. You may even choose to keep that Tricycle subscription, as the Buddhism-focused magazine is a dependable source for intriguing and often inspiring content no matter where you may fall on (or off) the spiritual/religious spectrum.
The film Mission: Joy grew out of a book the Dalai Lama and Tutu created together a few years back called The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. You can find it at your local independent bookstore by following THIS LINK.
“Discovering joy does not, I’m sorry to say…save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy
I found the Joy documentary particularly poignant as “Arch,” as Tutu was known, departed this side of the veil for the More not quite two months ago, on St. Stephen’s Day, aka the day after Christmas. He was 90. What a life. What a legacy. The world is much dimmer without him. But he showed us not only how to find light, but how to be light in the darkness. During his time walking among us, Arch taught countless others how to live bravely and lovingly, courageously and kindly, working tirelessly for justice while bathing in grace.
By example, he also taught us how to embrace and channel joy. I met Arch just once, briefly, a dozen years ago in Chicago, and will never forget his unfettered laughter, airborne joy that filled the room, and the fierce, unwavering focus of his eyes when he looked at me, at anyone. The ripples of Tutu’s influence are endless.
May we each do what we can to follow his example and carry it forward with a contagious joy.
2. Abbott Elementary and the Joy of Scrappiness
This one also is time-sensitive, at least in part.
First of all, if you’re not already watching ABC’s crackerjack new mockumentary Abbott Elementary, set in a chronically underfunded public school in Philadelphia, do yourself a solid and tune in (check your local listings for times or stream every available episode now on Hulu). To start, it’s one of the few network comedies that is actually funny and smart at the same time. It also shines a light on the heroic dedication of (too) many teachers who must get creative and scrappy to bridge the gaps between student needs, limited resources, and bureaucratic bungling.
Created by actor/comedian/author Quinta Brunson, 32, who, like the Fresh Prince, was born and raised in West Philadelphia, the series is inspired by her own experiences and those of her mother, who was a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for 40 years. Brunson named the series after her 6th grade teacher, Joyce Abbott, who recently surprised the actress during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show.
If you’re a fan of the show, which is a true phenom with 100-percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a millions-strong audience that has grown exponentially since the show’s premiere in December, you may feel as evangelical about it as I do. I’ve lost track of how many “have you watched this yet?” texts I’ve sent to family and friends.
Even if you don’t come from a family of feisty, dedicated public school teachers (who resemble some of the characters on the show) like I do, the ensemble comedy is a delightful surprise. Hilarious, poignant, clever, and with a moral through-line that celebrates what we can do—problem solving, creativity, buoying spirits, and sparking joy—when we work together for the greater good.
The latest episode drops tomorrow evening. And speaking of tomorrow evening…
TOMORROW NIGHT Tuesday, February 22, at 7 p.m. CT, join the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago for a virtual conversation with two of Abbott Elementary’s stars—Lisa Ann Walter (2nd-grade teacher “Melissa Schemmenti”) and Sheryl Lee Ralph (kindergarten teacher “Barbara Howard”)—and hosted by ABC7 Chicago's Hosea Sanders. They'll explore how the series was created, behind-the-scenes production, casting, how to make a sitcom work in 2022, and more.
3. Dancing for Joy | Gurdeep Pandher of the Yukon
I don’t recall precisely when I began following Gurdeep Pandher of the Yukon on Twitter, but I know it was sometime during these plague years and that it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made on social media. Pandher caught my attention (and that of millions of others) through the videos he posts daily of him performing traditional Bhangra dance, usually outside, often in the snow, and always clad in a brightly-colored turban—the customary religious head covering for men of his Sikh tradition.
A native of Punjab, India, Pandher immigrated to Canada in 2006, became a citizen in 2011, and the next year moved to the Yukon, where he lives in a small cabin with no running water (his privy can be seen in the background of many of his videos.) They are (and he is) absolutely captivating. His goal is to spread joy and he never misses the mark. My husband and I spent part of the most recent New Year’s Eve taking a live Bhangra class with Pandher and hundreds of stranger via Zoom. (Somewhere, there is video but I conveniently couldn’t find it in time to include herein.) It was the best way to have ring in a new year—sweating, out of breath, hopeful, and laughing our heads off. Pure JOY!
“Joy is more than having fun. Joy means your nerves are calm, your anxieties are elsewhere,” Pandher writes on his website. “Your heart (not just lips) is smiling; your breathing is soothing like a breeze; your world is perfect in the mess of imperfections around you. Joy could be an ideal meditation. If all emotions are valuable, then even tears of joy can make us get up and dance. One thing more about joy; we need it, just like we need food to survive. Go find your joy! Start by searching within yourself or going out in nature.”
“Joy does not mean that you fully disconnect from other vital emotions, such as being reflective or feeling sad,” he writes. “It means that joy is your home, and other emotions are places to visit. After visiting, come back to your home to calm your anxieties!”
4. The Melting | Top Off Your Joy Meter with Patti Smith
—You have misplaced joy, he said without hesitation. Without joy, we are as dead. —How do I find it again? —Find those who have it and bathe in their perfection. ―Patti Smith, M Train
If you’re going to subscribe to any newsletter (apart from this one :: winky face :: ) , please let it be Patti Smith’s Substack. She publishes The Melting each day (usually) and her dispatches are an engaging mix of video, audio, images, and words. It’s refreshingly under-produced—often just Patti and her iPhone. At 75 years young, Smith is generous with her hard-won wisdom, boundless curiosity, empathy, and self-effacing awkward girlish real-ness. I love her so.
And if you’re not already following her on Instagram (@ThisIsPattiSmith) I cannot encourage you strongly enough to do so—she is a constant source of wonder and grace—and is an absolute joy.
5. Joy Harjo | A Map To The Next World
Joy Harjo is a three-term Poet Laureate of the United States. A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, she is the first Native American to hold the position she’s held since 2019. Harjo’s voice and vision are gifts to all of us.
A Map to the Next World BY JOY HARJO for Desiray Kierra Chee In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.
My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.
For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.
The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.
—Read “A Map to the Next World” in its entirety HERE.
6. Rumi on Joy and Sorrow
For me (although I suspect I am not alone in this), February is a tangle of joy and grief.
I took this photograph seven Februaries ago on a visit home to Connecticut to say goodbye to my beloved Uncle Frank, who was in hospice at the time. Ten Februaries before that, Frank’s amazing wife, Mary, my mother’s sister, my godmother, and one of my favorite human beings of all time, made her journey into eternity.
There are moments when deep winter feels as if it will never relent, just as there are times when the weight of sorrow and grief seems unbearable. And yet there is a promise of something beyond sorrow, a gift that transcends grief as King David writes in one of his psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
For many of us, the last two years have felt like a perpetual February afternoon, cold and grey, filled with a litany of loss and heartbreak, fear and anguish. But around the edges, in flashes and fleeting moments, there also is joy and we should cling to it like the spiritual floatation device it is.
It won’t always be like this is a statement that works both ways, so seize joy whenever and wherever you may find it.
“Sorrow prepares you for joy,” the Sufi poet Rumi wrote. “It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
Joy comes in the morning.…
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read, seen, and heard, and feel like sharing this dispatch or the This Numinous World site with friends—or showing it some love on the socials—I’d be much obliged.
And if you’re able to lend your support to my ongoing endeavors in a financial way, it would be a great grace. I haven’t had much income to speak of in these plague years and while I try hard not to panic, some days it’s a challenge to remember to inhale joy and exhale fear.
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I am grateful for each of you, the light (and joy) you create and reflect.
Thank you for reading.