I stole the title of this post from the talented Josh Ritter. It’s from a song called “Joy To You Baby”. It’s a breakup song; more accurately, it’s a post-breakup song. But it popped into my head while I was in France, since joy was what I was feeling most of the time. I remember walking around Marseille with the line, “Joy to the city, the heat wave and all…” on repeat in my brain.
Out of fairness, I should probably share the lines that precede the one above, since they are also relevant:
“There’s pain in whatever we stumble upon. If I never had met you, you couldn’t have gone. But then I wouldn’t have met you, we couldn’t have been. I guess it all adds up to joy in the end.”
And that sums up how I’m feeling, sitting here, the day before I return to work, reflecting on the past three months of my sabbatical and trying to distill some wisdom from the experience. This time has been about the dichotomy of things gained and things lost. Beginnings and endings, meetings and partings, anticipation and memory, exploration and introspection. Balancing the risks – lost professional opportunities, missed events, things undone – with the benefits – restoration, adventure, friendship, growth. And not just balancing, but understanding. Understanding what I’ve chosen and what, then, cannot be chosen. Understanding – knowing – the “pain in whatever we stumble upon”, but accepting it because we also know, or trust, the joy in the end.
Really, that’s what it’s all about, right? Life, that is. We move between, and try to balance, the joy and the pain, the bitter and the sweet, the struggle and the triumph. And what you hope for yourself and those you love is that in the end, when you weigh the sum total of your days and years, your experiences and adventures, the scales tip towards joy.
Recently one of my youth group alums, a well-traveled young woman wise beyond her years, shared this quote from writer and professor Miriam Adeney:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
I love this, and I know it to be true. I felt it first for Haiti, a place I have known for 15 years, where I have friends and colleagues and a deep sense of connection. As life has taken me and friends onward, parts of my heart have gone to California, Connecticut, Amsterdam, Rwanda, Paris, Seattle, Prague, Memphis, Chicago, and now Germany, Australia, Nice, Canada, and of course, Marseille. In my own travels, I’ve left parts of myself in places, like breadcrumbs dropped in the hope that they will one day guide me back. Or better yet, like seeds, which have the potential to take root and, if I do return, to surprise me with what they have become in my absence.
One of life’s challenges, of course, is getting comfortable with the feeling of never being completely at home. It is unsettling, and can lead to restlessness or shallow and hollow attempts to fill that part of your heart. But what I’ve learned throughout this time is that the restlessness can be a gift, if we’re willing to listen to it and learn from it, instead of trying to drown it out.
On occasion, I’ve been accused of being a bit flighty, fickle, jumping from one activity to the next, as if I am trying to fill a void or find the thing that will finally be “it”. At times I’ve felt the truth in that charge. Why aren’t I satisfied with the comforts of my life as it is? Why do I always want to have something on the horizon, something to look forward to, something new to try, or some new place to go?
My friend Wolfgang shared a beautiful poem recently with this line that, for me, starts to answer my questions:
“Only he who is ready to journey forth can throw old habits off…”
Yes! It’s only in response to the feeling of being not-quite-satisfied that we can free ourselves from the things that fetter us, and seek out something new. With the help of words from other, smarter folks I can begin to build a defense for myself. My seeking and all that comes with it – the restlessness, the sense of not being completely at home, the hunger to see new places and try new things – these don’t arise from a desire to replace something lost but rather to give more away. The other places and other people I love don’t diminish me, they expand my life. They make me more curious, more generous, more fully myself. Who wouldn’t want more of that? And if the unease, the not-at-home-ness, are the price, I’ll accept that because the reward, the payoff, is joy. Always more joy.
This will be the last time I post here, at least for now. My intention was that this blog would last as long as my sabbatical. Since the sabbatical is at its end, I think now is a good time to, as we’d say at the Institut, “prend une pause”. I may offer a post-script about my return to work, but otherwise I’m going to take a break, and wait and see what happens next.
When I started this adventure, I emailed a group of exactly 43 people and shared my blog address with them. According to my stats , I’ve had 1609 views (not visitors), from 24 countries, from the US and Germany and France to Belarus and India and Israel. Which means that I likely don’t know most of the people who visited my blog.
It’s part of the weirdness and wonder of the internet that strangers would take an interest in what I had to say, but I’m grateful for it, and for all of you. Thank you to everyone who visited and read, who shared my blog, who commented (either publicly or privately). I am so thankful that you joined me in this life-changing adventure.
Wishing you joy on the journey, and in the end.