Updated: Jul 25
Since writing Around the Table, I have been once again mesmerized by the expansive sensation that comes alongside experiencing joy. It's not that I find myself laboured with the need to manifest it; instead, I recognize that joyful opportunities surround and beg me to embrace them with the comfort they intend to provide.
I went to church every Sunday with my family when I was a child. Attending each hour-long mass was a tortuous expectation from which I couldn't wait to unburden myself. And although I finally escaped what I believed was the hypocrisy of religion when I was 16, I secretly and simultaneously yearned for the one part of the Catholic ritual that connected me to the community of God—the music.
Music was a significant conduit to my family's ability to connect...or at least, to me being able to be connected to my parents and siblings. We had an old HiFi stereo cabinet in the living room, and when we came home from church with a dozen long johns in tow, my mother stacked 6 albums on the turntable, turned the switch to 'on,' and placed the needle on the first song. The crackling voices of Bobby Darrin, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin were just a few who brought harmony into my world of emotional imbalance.
I fought to stand on the 'poof,' the Dutch equivalent of a stuffed leather ottoman, which I used as centre stage. As soon as my father turned the car engine off, I would run into the house to grab the wooden hand-carved pestle from the mortar he brought back from India after World War II. It served as my microphone, and my sisters were my backup singers. Just an hour before, I had been inspired by the choir members' voices filling the church, and I couldn't wait to belt out the tunes of the rat pack. My father sat listening in his easy chair as my mother got up and down to bring him coffee, donuts, and anything else he needed—he smiled through my entire performance. Acceptance is an element of joy that I savour.
Moving on through high school in the 70s and into early adulthood, I continued to embrace many music niches—rock, blues, swing, jazz, and hip hop. I went to discos in the 80s with my girlfriends, and we danced into the night. I taught aerobics for years, and my body energetically moved to the beat of every song on the tapes I made. When my husband and I went out for dinner at our friends' houses, we ultimately ended the evening singing to old tunes and dancing on their living room floor.
But in my early 50s, when heightened awareness of my trauma emerged, I began blocking joy of all kinds, including cutting myself off from music. It happened over time, and I didn't realize what I was doing or why, but as an example, I remember getting in the car to drive to work every day and immediately turning the radio off; I did that for years. I seemed to crave stillness because I couldn't cope with the overload of emotions and energy that came with music—it didn't make me happy anymore.
Eventually, I created a space of solitude in one of the bedrooms in our house and turned to my journal. I subconsciously compartmentalized joy to make space to understand my suffering. I had landed in a place of not being worthy of being present and enjoying life, so I needed to discover why. And I did achieve worthiness by being honest with myself and writing every deep, dark, descriptive detail of how I got to this lonely undeserving place. I knew that I was the only one I could fully trust to safely speak my truth, and if I did, I could work through it to get back to freely expressing love and laughter.
I haven't been to church in many, many years, but I am listening to music again, which provides a very blessed feeling of joy.