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The gift of pure unfettered joy

I recently had a birthday.
I’m 45. 
If I’m lucky, I figure I’m about halfway to the other side.
In honor of this top-of-the-mountain occasion, I wanted to throw a big, all-day party with lots of people and food that I love and spend the day in connected laughter and conversation.
But . . . we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and my town has been locked down for nearly six months.
I’ve really only seen a handful of people since March, and what’s left of my deflated extroverted heart feels a little needy when I do get to see real live humans. I tell myself that I’m not the only one that lingers at the post office after mailing a package and asks the clerk if she’d like to see pictures of my dog.
Basically, I had no plans for my birthday other than sitting down with a journal and writing out my goals for the next year.
But then, a few days before my birthday, I got a phone call from my organized and very left brained eighteen year old son. He’s all grown up and working at an internship in Boston on the other side of the country.
Now, you should know that I had my kids take the 5 LOVE LANGUAGES quiz by Gary Chapman years ago, so they could know for themselves how to communicate what spoke to their heart, and hopefully, so I could better speak their love language.
I’ve taken the quiz myself a dozen times over the years, and it changes with the seasons of my life. QUALITY TIME is usually the winner, with close but tied runners up of PHYSICAL TOUCH, WORDS OF AFFIRMATION and ACTS OF SERVICE. Then, in the far distant, is the language of GIFTS. I’m just not overly moved by gifts.
But, when a gift is given with thoughtful intent behind it, well, that changes everything.
My son called to let me know that he would be renting a convertible for me for my birthday.
I would pick it up at ten o’clock on the morning of my birthday and return it the next morning at ten o’clock. I had 24 hours of unlimited miles of countryside cruising with the top rolled down and the music up loud.
If there were a sixth love language for me, it would be CONVERTIBLES.
I LOVE them.
I’ve had two of them, but even though I loved zipping around town in that Mini Cooper, there came an age when my two boys no longer fit in that cereal-box-sized back seat. That was about six years ago.
I went to bed early the night before my birthday and woke up with a song in my heart. I was ready to ride the hills.
I invited my other son, age 19, to spend the day with me.
At 10 o’clock, we turned out of the Enterprise Rental Car parking lot and headed west in search of the ocean.
We made our way through the vineyards and orchards of wine country and sauntered on down the road an hour until we pulled up to the shore of the Pacific Ocean, where we walked along the beach collecting rocks and shells and a few happy memories.
As we walked along the sand, I created a short bucket list for the next 21 remaining hours. It included finding a lake, a river, a pond, a waterfall and a stream to add to our ocean visit.
We headed on up the road to find a lake and a waterfall that we hadn’t visited before then made our way back home winding through 20 miles of tree covered road--the kind of road where the trees meet in the middle creating a tunnel of pure happiness and joy. 
After an afternoon of short hikes and Mother Nature’s water features, we rolled back into town about five o’clock.
I spent the evening picking up friends, one by one, to go for a ride and listen to some tunes.
If there is anything I love more than a convertible ride, it’s SHARING a convertible ride with someone who loves it, too!
I cruised late into the evening and tumbled into bed about 11 that night with a smile of delight the size of the Grand Canyon on my face.
I set my alarm for 4:30 AM.
There was no good reason to stay sleeping when a beautiful convertible was in my driveway waiting to be driven.
My friend Sarah and I headed off in the wee hours of the morning to make our way through Portland to watch the sunrise over the Columbia Gorge.
We made our way through the scenic highway with the radio up loud as the beauty of a new day dawned in the gorge.
We checked off the missing water features from the bucket list and made our way back to return the car as the clock struck ten.
Once birthday celebrations were over and normal peasant life returned, I found myself smiling for the next several days. I thought about how life has been a continuous roller coaster of ups and downs. Highs and lows. Joys and sorrows.
There was a time not so long ago when I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to feel joy again. I lived through what seemed like an endless sea of gray, unfeeling, empty days.
But . . .
I felt pure unfettered joy this week and many times over the last year.
I don’t know that feeling the depths of sadness and grief actually increased my ability to feel joy, but I have noticed that my ability to appreciate the times I feel joy has increased dramatically.
I thought I knew a lot of things in my younger years, but at 45 I’m content not knowing all that much about the mysteries of the universe.
I DO know that my heart broke under the weight of grief and loss AND that joy has returned to my life with the unexpected traveling companion of gratitude for the ability to feel that joy. That gratitude has become just as life changing as the joy itself.
Sending you happy vibes!

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