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The Gift of Confounding Joy: Part 1

the meaning of a rearview mirror
I looked like Miss Fit but felt like Misfit. -1994

Sometimes there are these crystalline moments when life feels eternal and everything is just as it should be. I've had my share of happy moments. But I can only think of two pristine occasions of confounding joy.

By 'confounding,' I'm referring to an inexplicable sense of engulfing joy despite surrounding circumstances. The sublimity is so acute that it is almost like being teleported in the Matrix or something. Suddenly, jarringly, you are somewhere else. And in this case, that somewhere else is a really good place.

The first time this happened was when I was approximately 22 years old. I was living with my girlfriend at the time but struggling with the facts that I was A) dirt poor with no familial support, B) depressed and working through severe childhood trauma, and C) wasn't gay.

(Hey- if you didn't know about my sapphic past, you clearly haven't read my book. Tsk tsk.)

That uncertain season was burdened with stress, sadness, confusion, and suspense. I didn't know who I was or what I would do with my life. I had graduated from college, which, thanks to my grandfather's foresight and generosity, I had the means to attend. But everything else– and I mean everything, I did on my own, by myself. I was that pathetic, plastic bag that Katy Perry sang about in her wretched song Firework.

I would drive all over Dallas-Fort Worth, teaching thirty "aerobics" classes per week, fumbling through Mapquest to know my way. When the show was on, mic in hand, and CC & the Music Factory blaring, I razzle-dazzled everyone in my little thong leotard, commanding hordes of adults on how to move and breathe. But between driving from one gym to the next, I'd have bouts of crying and ideations of just wanting to die. This was life, seven days per week.

One insignificant day while I was home on a Saturday afternoon, I impromptu hopped on my bicycle. Cruising down my heavily treed neighborhood, perfect Spring air enveloping my body, the fragrance of jasmine and honeysuckle elevating my senses, I suddenly found myself simply, purely, carefree, and saturated with the joy of life itself. Every stress, negative self-talk, doubt, and convoluted way of thinking and feeling vanished instantly. It was a spiritual orgasm. I was dumbfounded that life could feel that way.

It was a spiritual orgasm.

In that moment, I reveled in the reprieve from an otherwise grueling existence. After the fairy dust settled, I tried to make sense of it. The only way I knew to interpret it was that some big B Being from another realm deigned to give me a glimpse of what pure joy could feel like, even if for only a fleeting moment. I still suffered from Capricious God Syndrome and I thought I had won the lottery.

Let me be clear. This was an all-natural, out-of-nowhere feeling of existential ecstasy. There were no chemicals involved. And I most certainly wasn't riding the wave of being in love. I had every reason to feel like a heap of a person in those days. That is precisely why this moment of joy was indeed confounding.

My mother had recently threatened suicide and had spent time in a mental hospital. My two youngest half-brothers were living with my ex-stepfather and systematically being abused. I was helpless to change any of it. My own father was living his micro-celebrity life and loving me the best he could, which was very much from a distance. And my brother with whom I have always been very close was experiencing his own post-childhood trauma reconciliation as a young adult in another city.

Jesus is coming. Look busy.
I bought my dad this t-shirt. Read the fine print. He's on the street where I had my epiphany.

After having a cloistered upbringing and attending an all-women's university, I was unprepared for the world. I had been bred to grow up and have a husband boss me around; my only job was to cook and pop out babies. So I was caught off-guard by the onslaught of inappropriate male behavior, like married men trying to force their way into my life and my pants. And I began a cycle of financial drowning due to being underemployed and lacking the knowledge of how to get ahead. I was enormously ill-equipped to navigate life. It was a shitshow.

At the time, I had firmly abandoned Christianity as a reaction to my religious abuse growing up, but certain beliefs were still branded into my psyche. Pond scum theology and otherworldly deities were some of them. Accordingly, I thought of myself as an obscure peon of a creature trying to navigate the cryptic maze of unlocking the universe's secrets. As naive as this worldview is to me now, it was quite an improvement from the Christian treatment that I had known growing up. Dutifully, I blamed myself for not knowing how to access that state of joy on the regular.

The entire experience only lasted for a few minutes. Yet it was so profound that I carried that indelible memory like a precious jewel tucked away but never brought out for use. In many ways, that fleeting vignette has served as a homing device, urging me to find my way back to that stasis permanently. Nearly thirty years later, I had another similar experience but my interpretation of it drew vastly different conclusions.

American None nonreligious secular spirituality nones exvangelical


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