Missy stabs with her finger as the Christmas lights come into view. “Look … Lookit!”
She cranks the volume as high as she can when the Hallelujah Chorus comes on. “Yeah!”
She carts her hand-sized Christmas Bear with her everywhere, often cramming the poor red-and-white toy with glee into spaces it was never meant for, like a CD compartment or her overstuffed purse. It somehow soldiers on, its Santa hat hanging by a thread.
In short, if there were a job opening for Christmas Spirit, our disabled ward would be ahead of the competition by about three reindeer and a jingle bell. And it’s a bit infectious. Turn her loose on A Christmas Carol and not only would Scrooge redeem and Tiny Tim walk, but the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come would be leading a chorus of “Feliz Navidad.”
That kind of joy.
That’s a word I don’t use lightly. To be honest, it’s a word you don’t hear much anymore, outside a few seasonal songs. We talk about happiness, we revel in fun. But joy is something deeper, more wonderful, less tied to circumstance. A toothache can steal happiness but joy can live even in the darkest of places.
It’s a quality we badly need now.
You’ve seen the headlines. They’re not the sort to linger over. Appeals to fear. Calls for division. Angry men with angry words about the dangers of a faraway people, too different to be trusted. Some of those angry men wear beards. Some wear three-piece suits.
They build nothing except walls. They give nothing except grief. And too often, people follow in their wake, pulled by the confidence of someone who seems to know where to go, how to get there and who to blame.
It’s a confidence born of arrogance. And it’s really the antithesis of everything that joy stands for.
Because joy, at its roots, is humble.
To truly “get” joy, you have to be able to be astonished. That’s less easy than you think. It means admitting you don’t know everything. It means abandoning cynicism. It means cutting free of past and future and allowing yourself to marvel in the wonders of now.
Maybe that’s why Missy does it especially well.
An outside observer might wonder what she has to be joyful about. Her physical disabilities means she usually takes slow, careful steps through life, balanced on an arm, a wall or a piece of furniture. Her mental disabilities mean that she’s sometimes four, sometimes 14 and sometimes 42 – in particular, able to understand a lot of what’s said to her, but with limited ability to communicate back.
But maybe those challenges have also made her blessings possible. Because she moves through life slowly, even small things can catch her eye. Because she has a “younger” perspective (I hesitate to say more innocent, knowing some of the mischief she’s capable of), those small things can be new over and over again, and acknowledged without any pretense. Patterns and traditions are often a thing of comfort for her, and few times carry more tradition than Christmas.
Put it together and you have someone constantly open to joy, giving it, receiving it and reflecting it.
I’m not suggesting all of us can or should live life exactly as she does. (For one thing, the number of intact Christmas Bears in the world might approach extinction.) But the general lessons remain viable, whatever our situation or level of ability. Take time to truly see what’s around you. Experience the moment as a moment, without the fears of the past or the dread of the future. Share the good you find without hesitation.
It doesn’t have to be a Pollyanna approach, sweeping all the bad stuff into a corner and pretending it’s not there. But over time, it can take away some of the power that bad stuff has. When even simple things can be a source of wonder, it’s harder to hold onto fear and anger. Harder to remain behind walls when you’re always running to the windows. Harder to stand apart when any new person could be a new chance to share the joy you’ve found.
In a world torn down by fear, joy builds.
So go ahead. Look around. See what you find.
The Christmas lights are waiting.