Tag Archives: looking for joy

Don’t Look for Happiness

When I looked for my yellow scarf I found my old pearl necklace. I searched high and low looking for a flashlight, thinking, it’s gotta be here somewhere, but it didn’t show up until two days later, after I’d forgotten about it and was on a hunt for double-AA batteries.
This is how it is with joy; if you go seeking it, most likely you will find something else.

For the last five years I’ve been telling people, “look for joy” and “I’m looking for joy.” But chasing after joy is so – graceless. It’s an embarrassingly poor use of one’s time. Even though the Pursuit of Happiness is one of those unalienable rights granted in our country’s Declaration of Independence, right after Life and Liberty, it seems like a shallow and self-indulgent thing to be pursuing.

So now I’m changing my song: don’t look for joy.

Joy is a follower. It tags along behind, or is the result of something else. It doesn’t simply sit somewhere waiting to get plucked up like a daisy. Don’t bother searching for joy. Instead, be ready for it. Be open to it. Adopt the attitude that happiness can be a heartbeat away even when you’re drowning in grief and misery.

Joy is too elusive a thing to try to capture for oneself. It’s easier to make joy happen for someone else. Look for opportunities to create it. It lives deep inside you, waiting to be shared. You may not be able to bask in it yourself at that moment, but you can still grow it and give it away.

The really neat thing is when you bring joy to another it boomerangs back to you. You end up feeling good, maybe even looking good. And then friends stop bugging you about how you should “go see someone” and “get anti-depressants.”

I know how it is to deliver joy. Even in all my sadness, after I do something to make someone else feel happy, it’s kind of like I’m standing tall on a hilltop in a gentle wind, wrapped in a warm pink blanket, watching all the lost yellow scarves and pearls floating down to me from under a rising sun.

 

Many thanks to my dauntless friend Annette who posed, trying to be joyful when she was really hungry and in pain, before I completely exhausted her.

 

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Expectations

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an incomplete healing mandala of herself and her daughter who died of leukemia.Something has been bothering me. A couple of weeks ago when I blogged about how to handle holiday stress, I posted all over Facebook, “Stay in bed with a hot water bottle…. You don’t have to do the holidays this year.”

“No way. Expectations,” a couple of Facebook friends replied. And it took a while until I remembered my many years of being The One Who Made Joy Happen in our house. Back then I couldn’t have simply turned my back on what was expected of me. I would not have wanted to. There are times in your life when people look up to you, depend on you, trust you. And when you are in that position you do what you can to keep their world intact, and you do it with grace. I apologize to the ones I offended or disappointed. I’m sorry for forgetting how important it is for us to hold our tribe together.

Sometimes you lose track of what others expect of you, or what you expect of yourself. With the loss of my daughter, I lost a lot of my expectations. The biggest one was that children would outlive their parents. There were others:

The expectation that life will return to normal. That there ever was a normal in life.
That grief has an ending point, that at some time we should reach the end of our grief.
That one day you will be the same person you used to be. That one could ever be the same person she was before losing her heart.
That the first year of grieving is the worst. That time heals all wounds.
That if I followed all the rules and did what was right, everything would turn out okay.

That I would always complete my photo-illustration before putting it out on the Internet for all to see.

So much for what we believed.

You were expecting something joyful here? You’ve been so patient, putting up with my moping through the last weeks. There is some good news: We don’t have to worry or fret over any of this. Expectations – I’m pretty sure that’s one of those things our president-elect is working hard to rescind.

 

What expectations have you come to let go of?

 

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My Experience With a Medium

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a healing mandala with images of bare trees and her daughter who died of leukemia.There are some things one should never do alone. Like get a tattoo. Drink expensive wine. Or die. Going to some stranger’s house to track down your child who’s been dead five years is definitely one of those things you need to do with a friend.

“I have a message from your daughter,” I’d been told by two different people shortly after Marika’s death. “She wants you to know she’s okay.” I’d ignored these “messages.” For years it never occurred to me they might be anything more than senseless remarks thrown at me to squelch my sadness.

Then one day I met another bereaved mother who, in all her grief, was disintegrating and dying right in front of me. When I saw her again, a month later, she was bright-eyed and bouncing. “I saw a medium,” she beamed. And even though I was skeptical about such things, I started reading The Light Between Us by Laura Lynne Jackson. I read After This: When Life is over Where Do We Go? by Claire Bidwell Smith, and other books about afterlife and contacting deceased loved ones. It made me wonder, what if they’re not gone? What if their spirits remain somehow?

It was only right that I test the idea out. It would be an adventure. It could lead to joy. Wasn’t that my mission these days – to find joy? But when it came down to actually setting up an appointment, I kept finding excuses to put off the call. And I realized I was terrified. Because not knowing for sure meant anything was possible. Seeing a medium could verify that part of my daughter was indeed still here with me. But if I went to a medium and had my doubts confirmed, I could lose all my hope.

Another friend agreed to share a session with a medium. She sat next to me on a small couch in a cozy room while a lot of “spirits,” visible only to our medium, hung out in the space around us. At each question or communication I turned my head to see my friend nod and smile. Our eyes met only a few times, when what was presented didn’t apply to her, “No one I know.” “Not for me either,” I said.

No one and nothing “came out” for me. Except that I was an artist. The medium was adamant, I should explore my artistic abilities. And in my head I was screaming, “I’ve been an artist over half a century. But can’t you see I’ve lost my daughter? Where’s Marika? I want my father, my Omi Rosie.” They didn’t show up. I almost cried.

“I want to go back again for another reading,” my friend said as we got in the car.

 

What experience have you had with mediums or contacting loved ones who have died? Do you believe our spirits live on after death?

 

 

 

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Light at the End of a Tunnel of Grief

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York Photoshops the light at the end of the tunnel of grief.Online grief counselors say, “Embrace your pain,” “Face the loss,” … “Make friends with the heartache.” Meanwhile, today a friend politely pointed out, “There are different patterns to get over the loss of someone” and “You need to stop all this grieving and be happy.”

I am kind of happy. Life is good, except for my daughter dying. Until this afternoon I had no idea I was particularly unhappy or stuck, lost in a forest of grief.

I see grief as a bridge or tunnel connecting each sorrow forward to peace. Grief is a journey. Maybe a long journey, as some days the tunnel seems endless. One has to walk through the tunnel, carrying the pain like it’s a small child who needs to be rocked to sleep. The ache awakens at times. Sometimes suddenly. You stumble backwards. You whimper. You wail. Then regain your footing and continue the rhythm of your step. And as you traipse on, you notice there are countless minuscule cracks of light and color in the tunnel, where joy seeps through.

If you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, your hope grows more slowly as you learn to maneuver in the darkness. But you love that tunnel, even only dimly lit, because it is still your connection to peace.

 

In difficult times, what has your connection to peace been?

 

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Why Blog?

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a green fern in the forest at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortland, NY.“Why do you do this blogging thing?” a friend once asked me. After tearing up a half dozen different dirges I wrote this week, I came back to this question. Why blog? Why would anyone want to blog?

In June of 2012, a year after my daughter died, I was writing a memoir. I created a website in order to show potential literary agents I could gather and grow an audience. Each week I wrote my heart out. Soon the benefits of writing became clear and my reasons for blogging changed. Now, four years later, I have not missed a single Monday morning blog.

Blogging adds structure to my life. I pretend it is work. I force myself to get out and do stuff so I can have things to write about, and I block out time at the end of every week to type up my report. Then, on Monday mornings, when everyone else goes off to their jobs, I sit at the computer and publish “my work.”

I blog because I love to work. And I love the pride that comes from producing something.

I blog because my daughter blogged. It is a connection to her, one of the ways she continues to shape my life.

Blogging is a weekly evaluation, a review of my current emotional state. It’s an opportunity to remember what made me smile that week, what hardship or fears I overcame.

I blog to know I’m not alone. To reach out. To hopefully offer comfort to someone else. To hear from people and make new connections in a world where I was once, simply and happily, my children’s mom. Like so many others, I’ve had to reinvent myself. “I’m a blogger and photographer,” I say now, when asked what I do.

Mostly, I blog to remind myself, and others, that even when we’ve lost what we thought we could not live without, there is yet more joy and beauty and love to sustain us. “I’m looking for joy,” I tell my friends, as I search for the highlight of my week. Something fresh, and green. Something that stands out and slaps my heart awake. Blogging keeps me on the lookout for people, events, and moments that make me feel alive. If all I find is sadness, I write another lament. But when I discover something joyful, however small, I celebrate it. I love the heck out of it. And then I share it with you in a blog.

Thank you for being out there and listening. What do you do to keep moving forward?

 

 

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Flight from Reality

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, in a quest for joy, photoshops a lone girl with her head in a pink cloud.“I love being home with you,” I told the dog, when everyone I knew was out somewhere having fun, and I was feeling antsy with nowhere to go. “But now let’s find something beautiful and joyful to photograph. Something besides you,” I said, and followed her flickering tail around the pond, stopping to take pictures of the water and wildflowers. A colossal pink cloud floated overhead. I snapped a dozen shots of it, awed by its rosiness.

The cloud would be a perfect illustration of joy, I thought. After weeks of watching the garden dry up in the drought, after howling my grief songs and driving people mad trying to move boulders, I desperately wanted to blog about something joyful. So that night I stayed up late, turned on the TV, made popcorn, poured a glass of sherry, pulled over a cozy chair for the dog, and began playing with the image of the pink cloud. And over the weekend, I missed a picnic and passed on a dinner invitation, as I Photo-shopped the cloud in the water, in my face, around a lone girl. I Photo-shopped the heck out of that cloud.

Then, I Googled “pink cloud” to get an idea of why I was so taken with the cloud, and what I might write about it. But there was no joy in any of the articles listed. It was a term used in alcohol and addiction recovery programs to refer to “unrealistic feelings of well-being and happiness experienced during times of despair.” It represented “ignoring life’s problems in a dangerous euphoria,” … “flight from reality.”

I looked at the picture I’d spent hours composing. I looked at the dog. And then I had to consider that maybe I’m the one walking around with my head in a pink cloud, convinced I’m solidly planted on a sure path to healing.

 

Where is joy?

 

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