On lizards and love, on noticing joy and spreading it . . .
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘if this isn’t nice, then I don’t know what is.’”
My friend Steve recently posted this quote on Facebook, and it so filled me with delight that I found myself actually murmuring just that, at that very moment. And I think it’s a quote worth dwelling on, and in.
This past year has contained a number of challenges for me, a number of events and moments that have made me wail with grief and rage, that have left me numb with sadness. And I know that wailing has its place—I’ve needed it; it helps. Just last weekend, two generous friends guided me through a ritual that allowed me to do some big wailing—I got to scream and cry and kick, and it felt good to do it.
At the same time, the shitty moments and circumstances didn’t make up my whole year, not by a long shot. I also have a lot to celebrate, which often, I forget. I can be so practiced at focusing on the garbage that I tend to miss the garden right next to it, even if the garden is ten times as big.
Which leads me to the question, how do I get out of the garbage? After I’ve screamed and cried and kicked, how do I keep myself moving so as not to get stuck in a place of miserable protest? Well, one thing I’ve found is that when I start pointing out the garden to others, when I direct my own attention towards the joy, more joy comes.
For instance, in a moment when I was particularly depressed a few weeks back, I decided to work on my next order of Love Notes, and as I wrote out little messages of affirmation and kindness, I found the garden doubling and tripling and quadrupling in size, just like those little sponge capsules you put in water that burst into mermaids and gorillas and octopi. And I remembered why I chose to focus my life’s work on love, why I say it’s a worthy place to devote my energy—because it’s contagious.
I know this is true because right in the midst of that moment, my friend Mary, one of the co-owners of Portland’s Happy Sparrow Café, which is truly one of the most joyful places I know, sent me a text message. The message included a reminder to hang on and that spring is coming, as well as a photo of some tiny purple crocuses looking at each other like five-year old ballerinas, a bit tentative about taking the stage, but finding courage to do so in each other’s blossoming.
And yes, that’s what I’m celebrating here—finding courage in each other’s blossoming. Viral smiling. Waking each other up to bliss. Not being daunted by the thick dusty curtain of gloom we can all get trapped in, and ripping through it, each of us, bit by bit revealing slices of heaven until there’s no curtain left, and heaven is everywhere.
I still have a cartoon my dad loved and cut out once for me—in it, two happy lizards lounge on a rock, underlined by the caption: “And I love basking with you!” I keep this cartoon in a box I have that has little mementos of my dad—flowers from his funeral, holy cards, a scrap of paper with his handwriting: I love you, Jenny.
I’ve kept the cartoon because it reminds me of a moment I shared with my Dad, who died of lupus and bone cancer when I was fourteen. I’ve kept it to remind me that the lush garden that was my Dad’s life was much larger than the garbage dump of illness and pain and suffering he bore.
The lizards call to mind a bright moment my dad and I shared—he found them funny, and so did I. I don’t remember why we were amused then. Now, I think it’s the anthropomorphizing of the lizards—the making them like people and having one caught off guard and delighted by the compliment of the other—exclaiming the joy of sharing company and companionship, of sharing a sunny spot.
And I say sharing a sunny—or moon-y—spot is not to be underestimated. Just last night, I was on a walk with an old-new friend, and as we wandered through southeast Portland over to Laurelhurst Park, where the trees look like wise old women whispering to the sky and kneading the earth with their roots, we would stop each other and point to beautiful things—a cluster of winter stars, luxurious wicker chairs on a vast front porch, the red glow around the waxing moon.
What a lovely way to spend time—ambling along in good company, tour guides of beauty for each other. Look here. Don’t miss this. Wow.
Right now, as I lounge and play in my own garden, I feel so full that I’m conjuring up a cake-full of birthday candles and making a wish on them. It’s the kind that requires sharing, so I’ll whisper it to you here: I wish that we all take a moment today to say our own version of “I love basking with you” to someone near us. And maybe even tell us all about it with a comment below.
Give an unexpected kiss, notice some budding wonder, pause to waft in some delicious smell, savor a good bite of apple or conversation. Give yourself the chance to murmur to yourself, “well, if this isn’t nice, then I don’t know what is.”
Thank you so much for reading. You might notice that I don’t have a space for comments, but I’m certainly open to conversation about what’s written here. If you’re so inspired, feel free to start a conversation with me via the contact form on the homepage of this site.