Taboo No More

Sunday night, my friend Wendy and I went on a whirlwind Christmas shopping expedition.  As we finished two intense hours and were heading home, Wendy asked if I would mind stopping briefly at K-Mart.  She said she gets many stocking stuffers and gag gifts there each year, but often forgets to go there until she’s been everywhere else first. I don’t frequent K-Mart regularly myself, but I didn’t mind stopping.

As we wandered down one of the wide “center” aisles, filled with special gift items, I happened to see a gift box of Tabu — the scent I wore and loved throughout college.  The gift box came with a spray bottle of cologne, a small purse-sized bottle and a tube of scented lotion for the amazing price tag of…wait for it…$9.90.

Me:  I didn’t even know they still made this stuff!  I wore this all the way through college.  I used to love it!

Wendy:  Then you have to buy it, an early Christmas present for yourself!  Come on, you can’t beat the price!

Me:  It probably stinks.  I would guess that what I liked at 19 isn’t the same as what I like thirty years later!

Wendy:  No, you’ll probably still love it!  Come one, you have to get it.

And so I left K-Mart, the proud owner of the Tabu gift set.  And guess what?  I have been wearing it ever since, and…I smell goooood.  I smell like carnations, and spice, and a little powder in addition to young, hopeful, and idealistic.  I thought my tastes had taken me into more sophisticated sensory territory back in graduate school when I discovered Perry Ellis perfume.  But I guess I have always been a Tabu girl masquerading as a designer scent profile!

This has led me to wonder what other “childish” likes or pursuits I’ve given up in the name of maturity but should reconsider now.  As you know, I’ve already gone back to biking as a favorite pastime, and a couple of years ago I discovered that I still enjoy roller skating.  But what else did I decide, prematurely, I was too sophisticated, too sua-vee, too plain OLD for?  Here is a partial list I’d like to check out now, and see how they fare:

  • Strawberry soda pop.  Sickeningly sweet or deliciously decadent?
  • Yarn crafts: macrame, God’s-eyes, crochet squares that somehow never got sewn into an afghan.
  • Cheesy made-for-television Christmas movies.  OK, who am I kidding, I never gave these up!  ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas and FaLaLaLa Lifetime fight for my viewership nightly every December.
  • Driving around the countryside on hot summer nights, windows down, music blaring (will it be the same if the music isn’t playing on an 8-track tape?).
  • “Russian” Tea.  An instant tea and Tang concoction.  Hmmmm…
  • Bonfire, guitars and folk singing on the “beach” (using the term loosely for a sandbar along the Mississippi River).

As is the case for most people, I think, I was in a hurry to grow up — or at least to appear grown up to the rest of the world.  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians) was a credo I took seriously.  I never wanted people to think of me as childish, so I was quick to monitor my choices for what they communicated about my level of maturity.  This bible verse talks about taking up adult responsibilities and mature thought processes, definitely important for all.  However, as in all things, a balance is called for.   “And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ ” says Matthew 18:3.  The balance between these two good admonitions is what I am seeking in my life now.

When I was in college, there were numerous silly things we did to amuse ourselves.  Last summer, I had a small reunion with several friends, and we resurrected our “snapping turtle” skills (see photo, below).  I can’t tell you (because I’ve never known) how this started or why, but we laughed so hard attempting the snapping turtle faces, 25+ years out of practice, that I realized it is time to stop worrying about appearing childish or foolish – and to start reveling in it!  Sincere enjoyment in the moment is childlike, not childish, and hits that lovely balance I’m seeking.

Now, how about it?  Anyone for a strawberry soda – my treat!

JOY

…Though I try

to hide it I burn with joy like a bonfire

on a mountain, and tomorrow

and the next day make me shudder

equally with hope and fear.

— “Arriving” by Marge Piercy

When I was in high school, I joined an ecumenical youth group which had a tremendous impact on my life, my beliefs, and my worldview.  At one point, we adopted a practice of signing notes, cards, etc. with the acronym J.O.Y. — which, in youth group parlance stood for the phrase “Jesus, Others, You”.  If we committed ourselves to J.O.Y. (in that order) we would experience joy in our lives.

In describing my own path, I have no desire to offend anyone else’s beliefs.  Putting God and others ahead of self may be both appropriate and right.  However, when I regularly attempted this I rarely experienced joy.  In fact, until recently joy had pretty much fallen off my radar as something I hoped to experience — it was just too far off the grid of normal, daily life.

So here is what I believe now.  Human beings are meant to experience joy.  My mother was wrong (sorry, Mom!) when she told us “life isn’t about being happy”.  I don’t mean we should expect to feel giddy every moment of every day.  There will be trials, tribulations, burnt toast and stubbed toes.  Cancer and poverty aren’t going away any time soon.  But we were created to feel that deep down satisfaction that comes from being truly happy.  In order to get there, you may sometimes have to put your priorities in a different order:  oyj or yoj or jyo — or even include completely different letters in your personal joy acronym.

One day, not too long ago, I was having a really cruddy time of it.  Nothing was going right, I had experienced a big disappointment, it was raining.  For most of my life, a day like that would occasion a feeling of “why do I always have it so bad?”.   But this time it was different:  I was having a cruddy day.  But I was happy.  How could that be?

In looking at that experience, what I discovered is that one thing had changed — I had shifted my priorities in order to develop a “right relationship” with myself.  I can remember talking with a friend about how all the self-focus felt incredibly self-ish to me.  She told me that, by working on my own issues and healing past wounds, I was bringing something good to the world, not just to myself.  I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I can see she was right.

Which brings me to the poem excerpt at the beginning of this entry.  Sometimes, we try to hide the joy we feel because it can be uncomfortable to stand out so starkly from our surroundings.  Sometimes, we are afraid that it makes us a target for others who wish to stamp out our fire, and there are certainly people out there who might try.  But it is also true that  it adds to the measure of our days to interact with people who exude joy. We are energized and inspired by them.  And maybe, when it is you (or me) burning like a bonfire of joy, we will be lighting the way for someone else.  This is the hope part of the equation.