“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” – Rebecca Solnit
As I’ve heard from students all over the world, it is a difficult task to be joyful in the face of deep, collective, global distress, injustice, fear, and sorrow. Guilt surrounds any mention of things going well. But I want to issue us a challenge: do not give up on joy. Do not become so hardened and cynical that you are robbed of life’s beauty.
We may need to look for beauty in new places these days.
But it is there.
It is in the creative protest signs, the music we make in the streets, and the babies marching (or being rolled by) their parents, who are so brave in their hope of creating a more compassionate world. We find it in the cheers from the crowds when detainees are released, because we can taste what it will feel like when all cages everywhere are empty.
Joy reveals itself, unwittingly, in the potlucks and the hugs and the tender tone in which we ask each other, “How are you, really, sweetheart?”
That kind of beauty remains.
In fact, embracing that joy can be an act of outright defiance and resistance.
Those who would seek to oppress others want to create suffering. Yes, suffering is a natural part of life. But we do not need to succumb, necessarily. We can dance and sing and be unapologetically ourselves. In the face of a government that would seek to make those selves “less than” – to hold ourselves up in our beauty and our joy is a wildly optimistic, rebellious act.
In that spirit, we reclaim our worth as something which originates inside of us, rather than something others define for us. I saw a t-shirt the other day that said:
“WE’RE ONLY GOING TO GET BROWNER AND QUEERER AND WITCHIER AND LOUDER AND STRONGER AND PROUDER”
And I thought, yes! We are only going to become more and more unapologetically, exuberantly ourselves in the face of repression. That is joy as insurrection, self-love as a tool of political resistance.
Joy imagines the world in which we want to live.
In Sacred Focus, I talk a lot about creating more of what you want, and less of what you don’t. Little by little, taking baby steps in the direction of what feels sacred to us. Joy does this on a subliminal level. It lights the way for us to create a new world.
Instead of only focusing on what we don’t want (which is important, too, but not the point of this post), we can take a more proactive approach. We can start building the world we want to live in by following where joy points us. It is a pre-figurative tool to create new models and a new world in which all people and beings are honored for who they are.
What brings you joy and comfort in these times?
Dare to do more of that.
Quite frankly, joy is a big “Fuck you” to those who would keep us small and afraid.
And it keeps us connected to one another – something else the powers that be would rather not happen. It facilitates and strengthens connection and the remembrance of interconnection. It lets us experience our small wins, rather than falling into despair and defeat.
Exuberant joy is, at its heart, a refusal to be small or silent or subdued.
In the dark times, joy is a gift to others.
Shortly after I got engaged, there was a sudden and great loss in a community to which I belong. It was heart-breaking and anything joyful felt sacrilegious. And yet. My sweetie and I had our engagement party anyway.
When it came time for toasts, a friend stood and thanked us for, among other things, giving the community something (anything!) positive to celebrate. She said that things had been really hard, but that our event proved that there are silver linings. That life, in some form, goes on. That new beginnings follow difficult endings.
So: do not be afraid to show your joy. Yes, rise up and resist, however that looks for you. But don’t be afraid to celebrate the small victories, the little milestones, and the small glimmers of hope.