Joy is sort of like tiny seashells.
I walk out to the beach, via the old wooden boardwalk at one of my favorite beaches in central Florida, a beach I have been coming to for my entire life, where I have memories of being tiny, and being a teenager and being and adult. It’s beautiful. Like life. Life is beautiful. From afar, as we approach our blessings, taking inventory of their depth and breadth and multiplicity, like the seashore, no one would argue that they are not marvelous.
But sometimes, inventory from afar is not enough.
Sometimes, like when you’re standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, distance affords perspective. But sometimes, distance forfeits detail.
I step off the boardwalk and onto the sand. Walk forward toward the roar of foam and splash. Take my shoes off. Lift my head and sniff. The air is laden with a salty live smell of brine and sand and seaweed and breeze. I squeeze my toes, sifting sand. I bury a foot halfway in the warm sediment, noting the sunshine, the nodding dune plants, the swooping seagulls. Happy memories begin to flood my heart. Walk forward.
Joy is elusive in this world of instants. We think that if we don’t feel something it must not exist. I catch myself thinking this about everything. About love and Jesus and prayer and hope and kindness and faith and optimism. I catch myself losing joy because it won’t jump through all my time-sensitive hoops. Worrying about how much I feel something, in order to gauge it’s validity.
Joy is not a dog and pony show. It requires patience. And undivided attention.
I walk further still, toward the crashing vastness of water, down through the loose warm sand, toward the tidal line, a rugged boundary of seaweed that stretches down the beach as far as the eye can see, and marks the highest point the waves have come at high tide. Past the seaweed the sand is wet and packed down, marked with large and small shells.
We walk through life, sometimes so unsatisfied that we’ll grab at anything for peace. Hoping that we’ll stumble upon an eternal high that doesn’t cost us our soul.
I scoop up a handful of wet sand and squeeze it in my hand, letting my fingers fall open and staring at the small clump lying there. I hold the whole thing up to my face. Up close, the tiny pieces of sand are every color of the rainbow, every shape, and some of them are even tiny whole shells, so tiny that you’d never know unless you held a handful up like I am doing now.
Sometimes we have to stop. And wait. And sift. And wait. And know that God means for our joy to be full.
After coming to this beach for 30 years, I have suddenly realized something vital.
This is more than sand. It is rocks and bones and animals and pieces of homes. Movement catches my eye and I swivel my head to watch a tiny, purple periwinkle shell wiggle its way down into the wet sand, burying itself until the next wave comes.
There is more here than what is seen from afar.
Like joy. Quiet, multicolored, strengthening, and real.
Sometimes we have to go a step farther than counting our blessings. A little further than thanksgiving. Sometimes we have to sift through them, weigh their reasons and meanings, wait for clarity, be still and know.
The whole world is hungry for joy.
Perhaps, with tiny potency, is veritably living in our molecules, if we will stop to find and count it.