Many years ago, I was interviewing an older woman for my newspaper column. We were on the front porch and there was a large motor home in the driveway.
“My husband didn’t like his job,” she said. “Long hours, stressful. When he bought that motor home he said, one of these days I’ll retire and then we can really enjoy ourselves.”
She paused, then said, “The week after he retired, we lost him. Heart attack.”
Stories like this remind us that it’s important to think about how we think about joy.
Joy is often associated with the absence of struggle. But I’ll bet there’s a lot of bored people sitting on the beach.
Here’s a little different angle: joy is so central and important to our lives that we dare not wait until the struggle is over. The greater the struggle, the more we need joy. Not someday, but now. John R Silber, President of Boston University put it like this:
“If you are to retain your joy in life you must find much of that joy in spite of disappointment, for the joy of life consists largely in savoring the struggle, whether it ends in success or failure. Your ability to go through life successfully will depend largely upon your traveling with courage and a good sense of humor, for both are conditions of survival.”
“The joy of life consists…in savoring the struggle.” That includes struggles in work. Struggles in relationships. Struggles with self. Struggles in trying to find meaning or fulfillment. Or just the struggles of getting through the day.
To be human, to be alive, to be a man, to be a woman, is to take one’s stand in the world and taste, savor, embrace, and take on the struggles…and even find humor in the midst of them.
Like the crazy little character in middle-eastern literature named Nasruddin who said, “You know, I’ll really be surprised if I get out of this world alive.”
Savoring the struggle, says Silber, is where we find a joy that won’t miss. A joy that will last. A joy that can’t be taken away.
I remember driving up to a toll-booth, thinking I wouldn’t want a toll-taker’s job. Seemed boring and stressful. Then I noticed a young man working in one of the booths who seemed to be having a good time. He was dancing. Dancing in the toll booth.