People often tell me that I am a happy person, saying it with surprise and wonder as they look at my crumpled up body in a wheelchair. I’m no longer put off by this. When I was younger, I wanted to fight against being called happy, because I was afraid that I was being dismissed as a kind of simpleton, incapable of knowing that I shouldn’t be happy. But, now I think – well… why shouldn’t I be happy? Why is happiness such an unexpected thing to find in me that people consider it remarkable? In thinking about this question, I found this answer…
We think that happiness comes through things, attached to stuff like health, wealth, good looks, or fame. We think that if we only had those things then we would be happy. And yet, there are plenty of people who are healthy, wealthy, good-looking, famous – and miserable. They live unhappy lives of addiction, anger, and loneliness. That’s because real happiness doesn’t come as an attachment. Real happiness (which I like to call joy because “happy” is a sappy-sounding word) has no strings attached. Joy is free. It comes freely, like a true gift.
We all thirst for joy. And I believe that joy is freely given to everyone, like rain pouring down on us. But, we can only receive it if our bowls are open, upturned like a beggar’s. In that state, which is gratitude, our little bowls overflow and we can drink our fill of joy. If, however, we are turned in upon ourselves, upside down, then we are closed off from the reception of joy and, though we may get wet, we will never be filled, never satisfied.
Joy, then, which is what I believe people see in me, is not conditional. It is not conditioned upon a desirable body or prestige. That is why someone like me, someone crumpled up in a wheelchair, weak as waste, severely dependent and limited in my abilities, choices, and lifestyle, can be joyful. I don’t go out and look for joy (which is good because I don’t get out much, and when I do it’s not very far) and I also don’t wait for joy to fall big and obvious on my lap. To some, the joy of living fully means experiencing as many things as possible – lovers, exotic locales, romance, thrills, luxuries, lauded accomplishments, etc. But, this, again, is the false concept that joy, that fullness of life, comes through things.
It doesn’t. Real happiness is free and unconditional – necessarily so in order to be abiding joy or else it could be lost. When all things are gone – physical abilities, money, work, home, friends, small pleasures, even loved ones and mental abilities – true joy remains. Because it is a oneness with life itself, with ultimate reality. It is how I have come to think of righteousness. It’s not about having the right answers, the proper formulas, or desired things – righteousness is holiness, it’s being locked into the good, the true, and the beautiful, it’s having that key of love and gratitude that fits into the universe entire.
It’s letting God love you, through everything, and through the absence of things.
I am not perfect. I make mistakes, I miss the mark, I forget, ignore, hesitate, wish away. But, I believe that deep inside of me dwells, as in a sacred abode, infinite and eternal God. As my source, my core, and my heart, I have nothing to lose, I am never abandoned. I am given the capacity to live infinitely and eternally with Love, with Truth, with Life itself. For, with God, of what should we be afraid?
This, indeed, is what true joy, what true peace is like – and I do not claim to be an expert practitioner in any way! Oh, no! I have fears and sorrows, angst and rage, disappointments and doldrums. Just like all of us do, for we are all human. But, it’s like these wash over on the surface, like clouds across the sky, clouds that can certainly change the weather and bring terrible storms – but the sky is always there. Knowing this truth is the beginning of joy, though not its fulfillment. For now I see only dimly, know only in part… My begging bowl is full and overflowing but, yet, still finite, until… until I am taken up fully into the Infinite Source….
Sometimes, of course, we might be less able to open our little begging bowls because of mental illness, like severe depression, or serious psychological trauma. Then we will need others to help us lift our hands and turn our little cups right side up. And for those of us who have always been surrounded by loving people, it is certainly easier to recognize the goodness all around us – but, likewise, it is also easier to become dependent on others for our happiness, which isn’t real happiness at all.
I have that blessing and that challenge. Because my family has been so good to me, I believe that it has been easier for me to be a happy person. But, I have also been a selfish person (as I still can be now if not careful) and my teenage years were ridden with as much bone shaking sorrow as hormones and loneliness can ravage on a young person – especially a young person so continually denied by circumstance. Thankfully, I was created with a healthy sense of humor and the ability to find beauty in the ordinary. These attributes allowed me my first experiences of happiness. And I thought that I knew what real happiness was. But, I only discovered true joy when I began to learn about true love – love that is not conditioned upon pleasure, affection, security, or even familial ties.
For this familial love, though beautiful and good, too often can become centered on the self, on “what’s in it for me”. True love is not loving for my own sake, but for the sake of the other – at the cost of sacrificing myself. My parents had always given me this example, but, though I knew that they loved me, I didn’t see the deep core of Divine Love that they were reflecting. This is the love that I learned in coming to know Christ on the Cross.
Infinite and eternal, all-powerful God condescends to become a human being and gives Himself wholly and completely in love. He thirsts for us and rains His love down upon us…. Whether we receive Him or not, whether we receive His love or not, He gives Himself away anyway, totally and unconditionally. In knowing this kind of love, true love, Divine Love, I also grew deeper in my understanding and experiencing of true joy. And that is the important part of knowing why I am a joyful person.
© 2015 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.