I recently realized that life in my 70s has a guiding question that could have come straight from Marie Kondo, the tidy-up guru, though I have never watched a single one of her TV shows or videos and my house still retains pockets of clutter.
In fact, I apply the question, “Does it bring you joy?”, more to my life as a whole than to my dwelling and possessions, though I make sporadic efforts to apply it there, too. I use it to tidy up my life, so to speak, to focus on the things I really want to do.
It has not been an easy question for me to answer. One reason that it guides me now is that my answers to it have evolved over the years and shown up in surprising ways that I would not have guessed in earlier times. Some examples:
With apologies to my children, I would have to say that when it comes to pure joy, being a grandmother even outdoes being a mother. Maybe because it is accompanied by far less baggage and responsibility, but I don’t think that’s all of it. There is something about realizing the fragility of life, the extraordinary privilege of holding in your arms its continuation as you see its end ahead of you, and the extraordinary privilege, too, of pouring love into little human beings.
Gardening. I have tried loving gardening over the years. I even took a Master Gardener course about 20 years ago. But I was never happy with my attempts to either grow food or create beautiful landscapes. I learned just how much patience I lacked to do everything right with compost and tilling, to move plants that weren’t working where I put them, etc. When I lived in the woods, with little area for planting, I learned that I was less interested in creating a beautiful landscape than in tending and perfecting it. I regularly weeded invasives out of the woods and found the greatest joy in watching the spring wildflowers bring forth the beauty I had not created. I loved reaping, so to speak, what I did not sow. I applied that knowledge about what brought me joy when we moved to this beautiful house on a big ugly lot in the city. I decided that what might really give me satisfaction would be to pay an artistic expert for a really great design and installation that I could then weed and pluck and watch flourish. At least, I think that is what I’m after. We’ll see. My garden around the Pink Lady is half installed; the rest will follow this spring. I watched the first shoots of daffodils poke up before this latest snow. Yes! Surprise me!
Son-in-law, grandson, husband finding their bliss several years ago in the woodland “garden.”
In similar ways I have learned to say no to many requests for involvement in my church and to say an enthusiastic yes to a few. I have pursued a strange, wandering career path—teaching; international adventures; editing, writing, and organizing for big important causes—that has culminated at long last in something that is truly a passion, and I am not even paid to do it.
Speaking of this last thing, my involvement in Congo and especially the adult literacy project, I have learned that, although “Does it bring you joy?” may seem like a luxurious question that only members of an affluent society can afford to ask, my observation of friends who suffer and struggle in a subsistence society is that that question is one of the great necessities of life, to which answers are found even in the midst of struggle.
I think there are more blog posts to come on this topic.
What brings you joy? Do you use that question to tidy up your life?