Some years ago, my husband and I were visiting Montreal, and the famed Stevie Wonder was coming to town.
As part of the city’s popular JazzFest, the legendary musician was going to be giving a live, free, outdoor concert. We were not going to miss it. Neither, apparently, were hundreds of thousands of other people.
We wisely arrived well ahead of time. Unfortunately, this meant waiting for hours outside, crunched in amongst the crowds. Shortly after arriving, the skies opened, and it didn’t just rain—ice cold buckets of water were relentlessly dumped on us from above…for hours.
We didn’t have umbrellas, and even if we did, the crowds were too thick for us to hold them. (As the concert was about to start, the crowds chanted, “Ferme le parapluie”—close the umbrella.)
But as the great Stevie Wonder took the stage, I realized something:
Joy is not the absence of pain.
I was cold, shivering, wet, tired…and completely happy to be there.
I felt lucky, alive, grateful, and oh so uncomfortable all at the same time.
Of course, joy is not about comfort.
Mild contentment, happiness even, may be attained by making things nice and easy. And that’s perfectly good sometimes. But joy is a different beast.
There are no guarantees with joy.
Sometimes it hurts while it uplifts. Sometimes it walks hand-in-hand with discomfort.
Sometimes it surprises us by showing up when we’re grieving, or knee-deep in real, raw pain.
Sometimes it shows up in the middle of a storm.
I was thinking about all this recently, because a few weeks ago, something truly amazing happened—I became an aunt. That is to say, my twin sister had a baby.
It was a strange experience for me to stand by as my sister went through a long and difficult labour. To wonder and wait to find out: when would the baby come? Would she be healthy? Would my sister be okay? (And no, as a twin, I don’t feel my sister’s pain; I just care really deeply about it.)
But Baby Anna did arrive safe and healthy.
And again, I remembered this strange collision between joy and pain. Because there’s probably no better example than watching a new mother, exhausted and sore beyond measure, look at her newborn with love, awe, and utter heartfelt joy.
In the days after her birth, while her parents slept, I held Anna in my arms, and I sang her a Stevie Wonder song.
You know the one. It goes like this: “Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful?”
And there it was. Pure joy, asking for nothing in return.
That’s how it is with joy. Sometimes it floods us, obvious and unstoppable. Other times, it’s harder to find.
Now that the moment has passed, I will try to remember this.
I will try to welcome discomfort, especially when life feels messy and complicated and hopelessly out of order.
I will try not to shy away from the things that challenge me, or scare me, or make me feel awkwardly, imperfectly human.
I will try to look for joy, even when it feels supremely unlikely to show up.
And I will try to make room for both joy and discomfort, remembering that they go hand-in-hand.
I may not always get it right, and I’m sure sometimes I won’t. Life will always have its storms. But when they come, I’ll try to remember to put down the umbrella and stand in the rain.
Author: Camille DePutter
Image: Unsplash/Danielle MacInnes
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina