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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Study of Joy.

I began a new journal today, a pink, black, and ivory one with the words Live, Laugh, Love, and Journal on the cover. I think of journal as the fourth imperative verb there. On the first page, I wrote "I'm beginning a new journal at last--one that I hope will record much happiness, and more importantly, much effort toward cultivating joy."

Just a moment ago, I remembered that when I was about eleven years old and really devoted to studying the Bible (reading Proverbs and writing down verses and prayers in a journal with gold angel wings--I remember doing that at Great Nanna's kitchen counter in California--, reading the scriptures with the hymns I sang in church, keeping sermon notes in a muted pink binder), I focused my study on wisdom and on joy. These have become focused pursuits in my life since then.

My mother had told me the difference between happiness and joy--that joy in a choice, that it's unconditional, that it's a way of being and living. I wanted to learn how to choose and build and recognize joy. I used the concordance in Mom's gray-covered, falling-apart Bible to find scriptures on joy. I'm surprised how much time has passed since I last thought about this.

From age ten or so, sadness stayed near me like a damp sweater. But at eleven, as I searched for meaningful words on joy, I had not felt the weight of full depression yet. Maybe I knew, unconsciously, that I would need that knowledge, those tools, throughout my life, and I had to start storing them.

The first Elizabeth Berg book I read was Joy School. That book, though I don't own it, has stayed close to me because of the title and because of a little girl character's thought--something like "He will be my joy school. He will be my joy." Those words, my memory's paraphrase, move through my mind often, and I cling to the phrase joy school. Consciously or not, I knew that the right boy would be a joy school for me--joy, not always happiness.

But no boy, however wonderful, can be the only joy school for a real student of joy. Those Bible studies were a joy school as I discovered the idea and continued to seek it.

My quotation composition books are a joy school. I write down sad quotations too--those that mirror my particular griefs--but I focus on the joyful, beautiful, poetic--the real sparkles I want to save in everything I read. I distill books down to the dearest passages and sentences, and I keep them in my own handwriting where I can revisit them, and they can surprise me. Those composition books are treasure boxes, and I always feel a bit of deep brightness when I dip into them.

I've had other joy schools, and I'll have more. I intend to be a dedicated student.

What are your joy schools?