I had not gone to Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival a few weeks back looking for joy. In part I went to at least briefly escape some lingering and unimagined consequences of Mona’s death. In part I went as a necessary pilgrimage in the process of restoring self. Mostly, though, I went for the music, the lineup of musicians at Shakori – including Donna the Buffalo and the Duhks – ideal to enjoy with an old friend with whom I’ve recently become reacquainted – myself.
In a column for WNC Parenting years back, I wrote that it’s impossible to listen to Donna the Buffalo’s music and not be happy. So moments of happiness weren’t unexpected. But while a close cousin of joy, happiness is not joy and joy was not expected.
But then on Thursday, October 10, 2014, around 1:30 p.m. on Epps Clark Road south of the festival site, joy again entered my life. It was one of those remarkable autumn days that are almost surreal in their perfection, with a cloudless and infinitely blue sky, a blue that for me has always carried a tinge of sadness.
I had taken my bike along to explore what turned out to be little traveled roads through beautiful countryside and was coasting down a hill on Epps Clark Road when for no apparent reason, I started to cry. Immediately, though, I knew that for the first time in ages my tears were not from grief, but the limitless and pure joy of simply being alive.
While there have certainly been other moments of joy in my life, my recent encounter perhaps stands out as the most remarkable because of the universe of grief that preceded it. It made me realize what a singular emotion joy is. We may talk about shared joy, but there’s no invisible bridge of atoms between any of us that acts as a conduit for a common pool of joy. We can certainly contribute to each other’s joy, but ultimately our joy depends on and can only be limited by ourselves.
I don’t for a moment think that just because I’ve reclaimed joy, I’ll always be joyous or that the storms of life will rage with less intensity. But I hope that knowing the simple but extraordinary joy of being alive still resides within will help me weather those storms.
Since that Thursday on Epps Clark Road, joy has been no stranger. It was with me when I became aware I was whistling while shopping at Walmart, never a place I would expect to find joy. It was with me as I finished mowing last week, a cold breeze prodding me to hurry inside. Then I looked up to see the pink and golden hued clouds the breeze sent racing across the evening sky. I looked around at everything bathed by the unearthly, ethereal golden rays the sun sometimes casts late in the day. Even the slight sting of the breeze against my bare skin, which only moments before had nudged me toward warmth, only served to heighten my sense of being alive and the joy that came with it.
Eventually, of course, the evening faded, the breeze lost its magic and was just plain cold, practicality won out and I came inside. And while I’m not naïve enough to think joy will never again desert me, it’s nice knowing that for now at least it’s not hard to find and I can find it almost anywhere. – David Cornwell