Years ago I read a horoscope somewhere on the wilds of the internet that said my life “takes off” after 39 and that I would begin to garner significant professional respect beginning in mid-life — which I’ve interpreted to mean my 40’s. I’m afraid I’ve rather clung to this prediction. It’s brought me comfort when my efforts felt futile.
In April I will turn 39. A week after my birthday I will get on a plane and leave the country for the first time. I will fly over seas and land in Ireland where I will spend a week writing with Christine Valters Paintner and 12 other pilgrims on the tiny, wind swept island of Inismor off the Galway coast. There is more but I’m keeping it close. I find myself afraid to mention these things for fear that giving them voice will somehow invoke bad voodoo.
It’s hard to trust joy.
At the beginning of last year I offered a little blessing from Neil Gaiman.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful. And don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
Looking back I see the fulfillment of all these invitations. I found magic as I always do in nature and smiles and synchronicity. I’m a dreamer by design. I read a few good books and one really great novel. My mom and dad and child and dearly departed cat think I’m wonderful and I’ve kissed them all. I’ve made art. And I’ve surprised myself by how much I can do, what fears I can walk through, how much anxiety I can hold, and how I am at times reluctant to move out of my comfort zone.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came just a few days ago when my childhood friend Stephanie texted, “How are things going?” My usual answer to that question is “Eh” —- which is a not so veiled way to say, “I’m struggling.” But I paused. In that moment “Eh” wasn’t honest. I want to be honest so I wrote, “Things are good.” It was such a quiet, ordinary moment there in my office at the Y with the background noise of group exercise class and chatter and weights being dropped, but to me it was the Solstice and Christmas and all the magic and miracles. Still, I was afraid.
It’s hard to trust joy.
But here’s the thing about joy. It transcends happiness. It exists as bedrock beneath the deepest depression and surrounds the seemingly infinite black hole of grief where the body no longer stands on the earth and heaven no longer shimmers with stars. I know this because I’ve felt it. I know this because I’ve seen it in others whose lives have been ripped apart in ways I pray mine never will, but who somehow manage to remain in this world and laugh at bad jokes and smile at butterflies.
On this Christmas Day may you find joy. Whether it’s big joy that spills out of your soul in laughter or the persistent hope that life will get better because it could be worse. May you find “magic and dreams and good madness.” May you surprise yourself.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,