Snoopy, the oracle Beagle of Peanuts fame, dancing, feet pulsating, moving rapidly, nose stretched to the heavens shows it. Brandy Chastain, running, arms held high, hands gripping her jersey she just ripped off, unabashedly celebrating victory in a way where everyone recognizes the sheer joy of the moment. They exude and manifest happiness for all to see, unbridled, unashamed, total immersion in joy of the moment.
Spontaneous joy like that has always makes me smile, regardless of the circumstances. The unprovoked celebration, the instant laugh, the involuntary smile, the automatic lifting of the arms does something to me, it’s contagious, I smile, I borderline laugh every time. Unadulterated joy is contagious.
Personally, I’ve never been that demonstrative. I have seen happiness, I have been enriched by pure joy, I’m just not the jump up, rip my shirt off kind of guy, that would scare people.
Marty was so much better at knowing and experiencing her emotions than I ever was. She could be the saddest, the angriest or the most joy-filled person I knew. You never doubted where Marty was, you could see it in her face, in her demeanor, in her ability to celebrate even the most inane moments.
She got that from her Dad who could dance a jig even at 70 years to let the joy out of his body. Marty reveled in happiness, though I never saw her rip her shirt off and run around the house, Marty never ran anywhere. The strokes have changed Marty’s essence, her God given ability to experience spontaneous joy in life has changed, it has clearly been diminished. She still feels happy, she still laughs, but I miss the bold loud laughter. I miss that, I miss smiling at her laughter.
I’ve always been envious of unrestrained joy. Sometimes I barely remember how it feels, to simply jump for joy, to dance the happy dance in an unrelenting display of happiness. I remember it as a child, the innocence of a child; happiness not tamped down by reality or smothered by a sense of relief that you have survived something. I do feel it, I don’t know if it’s the same as Marty or her Father, but I do know and recognize great joy, not just great relief.
The picture at our wedding shows my version of joy. Marty and I walking down the aisle of the Presbyterian Church in Dalhart Texas, Marty looking beautiful in her wedding gown, me styling in my plush velour tuxedo with the ruffled shirt. As we are retreating down the aisle after the vows and the very public display of affection a wedding requires I spy my Uncle Dean and I smile, point and continue walking, it’s in the photograph. For me, it was my sign of total happiness, my way of ripping off my shirt, pointing to the sky and screaming, “We did it.”
When our children were born, I felt amazing; I felt a happiness and contentment that can’t really be captured. With Matt, in Paris Texas, in 1979, believe it or not, they didn’t let fathers in the delivery room, afraid we might pass out or see something scary we didn’t see when making the baby. I was relegated to the waiting room and had to sit with Marty’s parents as a miracle occurred a few yards away. It was an interminable wait and the happiness I felt when the doctor came out to tell me I had a son was palpable; it was incredible that I now had a son that had ten fingers and ten toes and an enormous cabeza. Marty later said he had eight pounds of head.
I got to see Erin born three years later in a tiny hospital in a tiny north Texas town. We knew everyone in the delivery room; they were all friends and neighbors. No, we didn’t invite the neighborhood for a picnic and birthing, we knew the medical team as friends and neighbors. It was amazing, it was incredible, it was more than a little frightening. I didn’t do the happy dance, I didn’t rip off the scrub top and run around the delivery room kissing all of the staff, but my heart did.
It was a different kind of happiness, not joy, but happiness completed washed by relief when the doctor came out to talk to us after Marty’s cranial surgery to repair the ruptured aneurysm in 2005. I know it wasn’t joy I felt, how do you feel joy at that moment, at the news your wife has survived brain surgery. Happiness was a part of it, she lived, she survived when so many didn’t, but I was too overwhelmed to feel joy at her survival, there was no happy dance anywhere.
The closest I have every come to flinging off my Texas, man sized inhibitions and dancing and singing for joy was when I saw Marty, about 10 weeks later, standing atop the three step platform her therapist used for exercise.
She was standing, which was amazing in and of itself, she was standing after climbing three steps, she was standing after cheating real death, she was standing with minimal support from her PT with her right arm raised, index finger pointing to the sky her left hip canted slightly left in the Saturday Night Fever pose of John Travolta. It was the most amazing moment, the most joy filled visual I have ever had. The memory of that moment still makes me smile.
I don’t know if it’s all about the moment or the event or the circumstances. I think that unrepentant joy, unrestrained happiness just happens. Some raise their face to the shining sun like Snoopy, some dance naked before God like David, some run with tears of joy, some reach to embrace those around them who have fought so hard. I love to see joy, I love to feel it, I’ll take it, I’ll live in it any way I can.