Do you have family heirlooms that only come out at Christmas or on special occasions?
We have a few beautiful things we’ve inherited over the years – although I tend to use them more regularly than just at Christmas – for the very reason I’m about to share.
Yesterday, as I poured bubbles into the lead crystal glasses we inherited from my in-laws, my husband and I spoke about how we were both afraid of washing those glasses in case one were to break – him because he’s generally the person who breaks glasses in our house and me because these belonged to his parents.
“I guess the thing is, if we recognise that at some point in the future, they will break, it becomes even more important that we really enjoy using them while we have them, knowing it won’t be forever,” I said, and we clinked the glasses together in agreement.
An hour later, I knocked one off the counter, smashing it into a million pieces.
What does this have to do with joy?
We got over the lead crystal glass easily.
“It’s just a glass,” my husband reassured me as I apologised over and over.
But this lesson feels as though it applies to absolutely everything. So much in life creates the illusion of permanence but isn’t permanent at all. Our homes, our loved ones, our bodies and hair, businesses and jobs…only when we lose one we hadn’t considered losing do we see through the veil and reveal the illusion.
I was both fortunate and unfortunate to see beyond this veil early on in my life, the night my dad died in a car accident. That night, as he fought for his life on an operating table, I was sitting on a tree trunk at a party in the woods by a golf course with a boy called Meredith Ferreira who listened patiently as I said horrible things about my dad while my two best friends yelled at me, almost in tears (they already knew about the accident but I hadn’t been told yet). Buoyed by the attention and drama of it all and thinking I was holding court, I doubled down on my efforts and said even more horrible things.
These two events – although dramatically different in the value of what was lost – both reveal an important lesson for me on living joyfully.
We don’t get to keep anything. It is all passing memory. As I look around now, I see the Christmas tree, the piles of folded washing I need to pack away, my laptop, the kitchen and garden, and my husband who has just walked into the room.
I have taken every single one of these things for granted, paying close attention to their value and the gifts they offer only when the veil threatens to pull back.
Joyful living works the opposite way around. We must keep our attention staying firmly on the impermanence of everything if we’re to see the genuine privilege and gift afforded us temporarily for the things and people in our lives and even the bodies we inhabit.
It’s not a new idea and not even one I’m writing about for the first time but that broken glass was an important reminder of how fast things can change and how little say we have over it.
Of course, we could have left the glasses in the cupboard, and they’d still be safe, but what sort of way is that to live?
Joy exists not in protecting ourselves from loss but rather knowing it will come and making a concerted effort to pay attention to every single moment in which we are spared from feeling it and allowed instead to feel all the other things we get to feel.