How do you name what is unnamable? I don’t know. Except, it is profound.

I find it difficult to describe it in the way I can give meaning to other emotions. My anger is full of fire; my irritation, a constant hot friction; my annoyance, ever-present and something I’d like to flick away.

But joy, instead, presents itself with subtlety. It whispers. If you are paying attention, though, you know when it is there. It passes through like a beam of light, illuminating everything, permeating every cell and hair and curve of your body. It is a resounding yes in a world full of nos.

My word of the year is joy. I plucked it from the ether, hung on the hopes of beginning again. It sounded lofty and unattainable. I tend to choose things like this because they are hard, because achieving them means I have done something. It means I am living a life and not simply taking up space.

But you cannot achieve joy, any more than you can achieve love. Nor can you possess it. It simply arrives one day, and then it leaves, sometimes all on the same day.

This summer has not felt like summer in all the ways it is supposed to feel. I’ve had exactly zero beach days and precisely the same amount of time to meander aimlessly through my city with no obligations. The things I love about summer are ones I haven’t had time to embrace.

But, in lieu of days that end with sand in everything, perhaps I’ve discovered something better. It has been a season of friendship. Of reconnection. Of community. I have found myself bonded in all ways, unexpected and humbling.

I remember the January day when I struggled to find a word, the idea of what this year would represent. I settled on joy—if you can settle on such a thing—and it felt right. Last year (and the year before that, and the year before that, and maybe even the one before that) was one long slog through emotional mud. Maybe I’d earned a bit of joy.

And then I went on with life. Every now and then I’d check my joy barometer. Nope, not yet, was always the answer.

Throughout the year, I manage to maintain a sense of wonder about the world. I look up and see clouds in wispy, angelic formations, sun rays beaming between buildings, birds playing and swooping in flight. Wonder is my thing.

But joy? Not so much.

And then, the fault lines of my inner landscape began to shift.

On the last morning of a fun birthday weekend a few weeks ago, I sat down for a meditation. Almost immediately, I was overwhelmed as gratitude washed over me, ebbing and flowing like the ocean at high tide. I felt humbled by the love I’d been shown.

I felt such deep gratefulness for the old friend who spontaneously asked if I wanted to meet for a cocktail, which turned into a fun evening where I’d felt more seen and understood than I had by anyone in years. For a generous friend I deem my fairy godmother, who gifted me with a birthday evening with more champagne and fun with a group of strangers than I thought possible. For girlfriends who make a day of wandering through new neighborhoods ridiculously fun. For co-workers who are kind and funny, always laughing in spite of the craziness of what we do for a living.

When I was done, I even felt a profound appreciation for the pigeons who take a breather from the summer heat on my windowsill.

This gratitude opened a doorway to joy. It didn’t shout its presence; it crept up slowly, kindly. Joy welcomed me, and beckoned for me to sit with it awhile. Maybe it’s always there, lurking just underneath the layers of irritation and annoyance.

I’ve wondered, how do you hold onto this thing, so blissful…yet slippery? The answer is stunningly simple: you don’t. You allow it to sneak up on you and, when it does, you let it permeate every cell and hair and ounce of you.

And then, you wait until the next time.

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