Forgive my delay in continuing my guest blogger summer series on happiness. I have some great posts to share with you in the weeks to come. This post is by Paul Williams. Paul has been many things to me – a friend, a mentor and a bit of a prophet. He is like me – maybe more than anyone else I have ever met. As a result, of course, I really like him…
There are a Lot of Gardens
by Paul S. Williams
I can pretty much predict where I am likely to find happiness. Riding down Picture Rock Trail on my mountain bike usually brings happiness, save those times when I get a little carried away and end up lying in a ditch. Topping a peak along on the Continental Divide also makes me happy, unless I discover a storm cloud hovering on the other side. Come to think of it, the arrival of happiness usually coincides with the possibility of unhappiness – even its relative certainty. Happiness exists in tension.
Macy, my two-year-old granddaughter, can bring me to tears with her unbridled laughter. Her happiness is not yet tinged with the bitter edge of knowing. Her twin sister Ava laughs often, but not as heartily. My daughter asked Ava what heaven was like. She answered, “There are lots of gardens.” Ava is an old soul. I think she knows something.
Frederick Buechner suggests we can predict happiness, but are surprised by joy. Joy seems to come in the most unexpected of moments. In the midst of great grief I have been surprised by joy, almost frightened to acknowledge the strength of its visitation. One night I lay on my couch in tears, beseeching God to explain why he had allowed such pain into my life. The pain was not lifted, and if I was expecting answers, there were none. Nevertheless, I felt this crazy joy at being alive and fully present to the moment.
Joy seems to accompany accepting what is, and any beauty that might reside within it. Maybe that is why shortly before his untimely death, Dag Hammarskjold could say, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.”
As I write this I am finishing a 7 hour flight from Ireland to Philadelphia, followed by another 4 hour flight to Colorado. The entire trip was busy and exhausting. We return to dark clouds, ones we left behind before embarking on our journey. Still, on this trip we knew happiness and were surprised by joy. This coming week will be no different. Our circumstances will seem impossible, yet without overreaching we will find both joy and happiness illuminating our lives through some slight crack in the door, and we will find our way forward.
Rainer Maria Rilke ended his poem, The Man Watching, with these words:
Winning does not tempt that man
This is how he grows
By being defeated, decisively
By constantly greater beings
I believe Rilke understood defeat is accompanied by joy. Jacob, who Rilke references earlier in the poem, knew it too. He stared Joy in the face when he demanded its blessing and ended up with a hip out of socket. And though he walked with a limp for the rest of his days, I think Jacob walked with a bounce to his gimpy step and a Mona Lisa grin on his weathered face.
And so it goes.
Paul S. Williams is the chairman of the Orchard Group, (orchardgroup.org) and Editor-at-Large of Christian Standard magazine (christianstandard.com), where he writes a weekly column, “And So It Goes.”
This blog series is sponsored by A Strange Brand of Happy, opening in theaters nationwide Sept 13.