A couple days ago my two year old came in from the backyard beaming. “Look, Mom!” he said. “Look what I found!”
He showed me a daffodil that he had plucked from the yard. It was the first (and so far the only) daffodil in the yard, and he was over the moon about it.
We talked about the flower for a minute. We smelled it (I LOVE the smell of daffodils!) and we found a little vase for him to put it in.
“Can you draw a picture of me holding the daffodil, Mom?”
So I drew a picture of Levi holding the daffodil. When I was finished I let him look at it and he grinned from ear to ear.
When his older brother and sister came home from elementary school the first thing he wanted to do was to show them the daffodil. It was the first thing he mentioned to my middle school daughters, too, and also to Scott when he walked in the door. Levi’s excitement over this humble little flower was inextinguishable. It was pure Joy. It was as if it was the first time he had ever seen anything so lovely and exquisite.
But then I thought about it . . . it had been about five months since flowers had been growing in our yard, and it had been 12 months since the last daffodil. Since my son was almost three years old, that is a third of his life! He probably doesn’t even remember seeing a daffodil before.
Ironically, I planted that daffodil for him. Three years ago in the fall, before I even knew the gender of the baby in my belly, Naomi and I planted fifty daffodil bulbs around our yard. “These bulbs won’t come out until around the time the baby is born,” I told her. “It will be like a birthday present for the baby!”
Little did I know how much Joy it would later bring him!
I wish I had coined the phrase “Surprised by Joy,” but it was actually C.S. Lewis. It is the title of the book he wrote about his conversion to Christianity. Then later (after he wrote the book) he married a woman named Joy.
I guess you could say he had a thing for Joy.
I have been “Surprised by Joy” many times. As a child, Joy was like a constant river running through my life. As I got older, Joy became slightly less consistent and more elusive. Eventually Joy took a second place to Work and Worry. Which is fine, since Work and Worry have their purpose, too. But now that Joy is not a constant visitor she really does take me by surprise sometimes.
Like the time when I was about 35 and we went to the beach. I hadn’t really “played” in the ocean for a while, since it always seemed that I was too pregnant or too nursing or too tired . . .but on this day I commandeered the boogie board from my kids and went out on the waves by myself. I had so much fun I started laughing out loud. All by myself. Just me and Joy.
Joy visited me again last month when a friend challenged me to take a photo of nature every day and post it on Facebook. This challenge couldn’t have come at a more dismal, colorless time of year. Usually North Carolina is very busy with animals and plants, but not so much in January. I had to be creative to try to find interesting things to photograph and I was getting a little discouraged.
Then one day I was on my way to a friend’s house when I turned the corner saw the most amazing thing: thousands of birds swooping and swarming around a field. It was so unbelievable I stopped the car, got out, and stood in the middle of the road, my mouth hanging open like I was watching a flock of angels. I took a couple photos and then just stood in awe and watched the birds fly as one huge, chattering organism, curving and floating, twisting and cavorting through the air, then landing and carpeting the field, then taking up their wings and doing their shape-shifting all over again. It lasted only about five minutes and then they flew off into the forest. “Wait! Take me with you!” I yelled after them, running down the street. (Just kidding, I didn’t really do that.) But the experience really did raise my pulse for the rest of the day.
[I learned later that these birds are starlings, and what they are doing is called a “murmuring.”]
Like my son Levi, I wanted to tell others about this experience, and when I did they would always mention Hitchcock’s The Birds movie (which I watched when I was an impressionable little girl and was probably one of the first things that started to suck Joy out of my life). But I didn’t feel fearful or apprehensive at all when I watched this murmuring. I only felt filled with Joy.
I just love how Joy sneaks up on you like that.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger–something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus