We’ve just returned from Hawaii, specifically Ko Olina, a stretch of land named for joy. Literally: the fulfillment of joy.
I’m not great at joy.
Empathy? Yes, pretty solid.
Introspection? To a fault.
Raucous, made-you-look-joy? Well, let’s just say it isn’t my default.
We’ve recently moved 143 miles from Seattle to Vancouver, and I’m in that no-man’s land between was-home and to-be home. It is awkward and unsettling to be starting over in my late 30s. It was so much easier when I was younger and wanted to please everyone I met. But now, at 37, I have neither the energy or the hustle.
I find myself retreating inward, which is the surest way to kill joy.
While Hawaii was gorgeous, I was not thinking about joy when we got to Ko Olina. I still wasn’t thinking about it when we drove by the sign that said, “Ko Olina, the place of joy.” I wasn’t even thinking about it on the first night there when a little girl floating by me in the Disney resort’s lazy river gave me a huge grin before disappearing in the crowd of sunburned kids. It still wasn’t on my mind the last night there when I saw a second little girl standing at a crosswalk with her bike.
This little stranger looked up at me, and gave me a huge smile. Not just a quick glance, but a I-recognize-you-kind-of-stare and smile. It was so personal, I turned around to see if her gaze was meant for someone else.
The light changed, and the three of us–Dan, Benjamin and me–crossed. I kept waiting for her to race past, but as we stepped onto the sidewalk, a car–waiting to turn left–zoomed by instead.
What happened to that little girl? I asked Dan, as we looked back across the busy street.
The one on the purple bike?
We both stood there, staring in the warm afternoon sun. There was no little girl. No bike. Just a handful of tourists on their way to the ice cream shop from where we had come.
You saw her, though, right? I asked.
Yeah, he answered, and then added, Look. The sidewalk ends on that side.
We were both speechless for a moment, staring at each other and then the empty grass surrounding the sidewalk.
Maybe it’s the ghost of Ko Olina, he said, teasing me.
We laughed a little, and then made our way back to the hotel.
I’ve been thinking about her a lot, this girl in this place of joy. The more I think of her the more miraculous this messenger feels. Ghost is a funny word, one I’ve never heard my very logical, very practical husband use, but I can’t get it out of my head.
The ghost of joy.
It is easy for me to name her killers: loneliness, perspective, a lack of purpose, invisibility, grief; easy for me to be so busy I have no need to acknowledge her absence; but, it is much harder for me to spot her presence, even when the symbols of her existence are so obvious they border on cliche.
How long has joy been following me, trying to get my attention? I am not sure. But I know that recognizing her is my calling.
CLAIRE CAREY DEERING believes less is more, in writing and in life.