Seems like when you enter a year like that, you gather fellow swamp dwellers who band together to pull out of the swamp to make little fires in caves to stay warm. We strip the slime off one another's backs and sip hot tea. The other day, I was with a friend who has stripped lots of slime off my back. She shared with me a dream she had and it broke my heart. Got me really thinking. (I have her permission to reproduce it here.)
In her dream, a genie appeared to her offering a great gift.
"You may return to and relive the happiest day of your life. Just tell me what it is and I will grant you this one extraordinary wish."My friend immediately plunged into panic. Best day? Best day ever? So she hunted through her memory banks. Childhood? No, nothing. Each event tainted by some pain unwanted. Raising kids? Nothing came to mind. Wedding? (Even her wedding!) None of these days was truly happy, worth reliving because pain would crowd into the memory. Not one day could be called "happiest of her life."
As the dream went on, she became more and more panicked. Here was a remarkable gift and she had to throw it away because she couldn't find a single happiest day in her life to relive. And she woke up. In pain.
Often in church, I've been taught that happiness is not a goal to be sought. Faithfulness, righteousness, loyalty, goodness, patience, long-suffering, self-discipline all trump feeling happy. Usually at some point when a congregation is flagging from pent up pain, a pastor will intuitively know to pull out the "joy" message. "We can't seek happiness" he says, "after all, its address is on the same street as sin and self-indulgence, but we must be filled with joy." You know, it's a command to be joyful! You can choose joy! Joy is the context of your life, not your feelings. Be joyful, dammit, and stop complaining about being miserable. Believe in your joy. Declare it. Joy is a belief, not a feeling.
But one day, you wake up and realize you don't know what joy is either. According to those pastors and their souped up sermons, joy ought to be translated: Enduring suffering without complaining, pretending happiness when you feel flat, bored, abused, lonely and mistreated. To believe in joy means detaching from the information your senses and spirit give you. You must reframe your very life to match a sermon.
What happens? Eventually along comes a genie giving you the gift of a lifetime and you have no happiness to show for it, no way to access happiness or joy. After all, reliving a day where you believed in joy is just not the same as feeling good. You have instead a long list of days where you've done everything right, where you've denied your self in service of loving someone else (maybe even someone who doesn't deserve your best self's offerings), where you have traded the experience of happiness and joy for "being good" and no amount of "being good" makes you want to relive a single day of that life!
Here's a warning for those who haven't felt happy in a long while (or ever). Look out. It seeks and finds. It knocks and opens. Sometimes it just barges right in, takes up residence and repaints the kitchen in Mediterranean blue. Happiness seeps in through cracks, and holes, and windows, and swamps. It may come in bits and pieces, but it wants to take over. When it does, it overthrows everything you thought you knew about life. There are two options: keep it at bay, or welcome it.
If you keep it at bay, avoid genies. If you welcome it, be prepared. Your whole life is about to change.