Pause for Joy as We Welcome 2021


Last week we experienced the winter solstice on December 21st, the darkest day of the year.  This darkest day also marks the beginning of lighter days moving forward.

A recent article in the Washington Post explains the winter solstice in the following way, “The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word solstitium, which means “sun standing still.” On the December solstice, the sun’s daily southward movement in the sky appears to pause, and we see the sun rise and set at its southernmost points on the horizon.” After the solstice, sunrise and sunset slowly begin moving northward again.

What a beautiful image…the sun taking a pause and the darkest of days leading to more light.

In the past months I’ve written about the power of pausing and noticing as a way to savor the good and then choose our next steps from that place of awareness.  The winter solstice offers us a perfect time to find light in the darkness…by pausing, noticing and choosing joy.  And, how lovely it falls just before Christmas, reminding us that light is coming.

We often associate feelings of joy with awe-inspiring or intensely emotional events—elation during fixed moments in time.  We’re filled with joy when witnessing a magnificent sunset, our hearts are joy-filled on our wedding day or as we celebrate a baby’s birth.  There’s no doubt these are big, magical, beautiful joyous moments!

And joy is also experienced in simpler everyday moments…when we see our child’s success, when we’re hiking and rest long enough to take in the surrounding woods, when we walk in a gentle rain or snow-falling silence, when we notice dawn breaking as we make our morning cup of coffee or when we see our best friend’s face light up with mirth.

Joy is an intense positive emotion, and though joy filled moments may be fleeting, the lasting effects are not.  Joy elevates and sustains us through even the darkest of times, but joy isn’t passive and doesn’t usually just happen to us.  We need to be relentless in our search for reasons to be delighted and to share these small moments of delight with others as our joy expands when shared. 

This search for moments of joy is a choice and a practice.  It’s easy to feel optimistic and find joy in the ordinary moments when things are going well, the challenge lies in finding joy when things feel like they’re falling apart—like now, when we’re living through a pandemic that has taken far too many lives and isolated us in ways we never imagined.  We’re now in a place of needing to find ways to hold grief, pain and joy together.  We are sad and happy.

We have history to look to for inspiration—as Victor Frankl shares in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, prisoners in concentration camps clung to traces of joy and humanity as a way to survive amidst the daily pain and suffering.  They found ways to celebrate the Sabbath, express love, share bits of food or pen and paper, sing and nurture one another.

Life is not either/or, it’s this AND that. 

Whatever winter holiday you celebrate—Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza—I think it’s safe to say this year was different.  We weren’t able to gather in the same way and our usual traditions were dramatically changed or abandoned altogether.

This season amid COVID restrictions we were tasked with creating joy for ourselves and our families in novel ways and in many cases across many miles.

Embracing the AND served us well.  Celebrating in isolation was really hard AND we still found ways to laugh and share and connect and find joy in spite of the ‘darkness’ and the distance.

We are responsible for finding ways to rise to the challenge and our next challenge is upon us as we welcome in 2021…

We’ll say good-bye to a year that has been a blur of discomfort, pain and loss—all that was familiar was upturned, routines were abandoned, we witnessed deep suffering and loss from COVID, from racial hatred and violence and from political upheaval.

We are shaken AND we will begin this new year with the hope that our suffering will lead us to brighter days ahead.

Seeking moments of joy to light our days boosts us and those around us…it spreads and seeps like water into our crevices.    

J.D. Salinger, the author of Catcher in the Rye, once wrote, “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.”

May you find light on these dark days; and may you seek and find joy in the hidden places during this holiday season.

I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite quotes on joy…

“Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing, to miss the joy is to miss all.  In the joy of actors lies the sense of any action.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt. In the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

And remember as we face the cold days of January our librarians are available to guide you towards books or movie to educate, elevate or entertain you.

Joy can be found as you cuddle up in your favorite chair with a good book and a cup of hot tea.   


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