Thankful Thursday – Be Joyful

Thanks to a serendipitous exchange of emails with Sharon Levin, I recently met in person the acclaimed poet Naomi Shihab Nye at a private lunch attended by college students and Sharon’s special guests. I’ve long admired Naomi’s poetry for adults and her fiction for younger audiences, and because she lives in Texas, it was an exciting opportunity for me to hear her speak.

Naomi is a very petite woman, wearing her hair in a loose side braid, from which whisps were constantly escaping.  Her light brown eyes sparkled whenever she spoke.  Naomi said so many wonderfully wise quotes, many of which I scribbled down. I was taking more notes than the students.  My notes from Naomi’s talk are full of sayings that I once believed and fully committed to, but over the years I had forgotten. The biggest one for me is:

“Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.” (Wendell Berry)

What does this mean?  “Be joyful” seems relatively straightforward, at first glance, so let’s go to the end of the phrase and look at “you have considered all the facts.” This implies to me the act of planning and thinking things through, which often requires the ability to look at a scenario and imagine all possible outcomes, good and bad.

Let’s look at the beginning career path of a writer. The fact is that a small percentage of people who want to be published actually become traditionally published. The fact is that while there are thousands of traditionally published and self-published authors, only a handful make enough so they don’t have to rely on another income. The fact is that even though you might get published, chances are good that most people will never have heard of your book. Considering all the facts can be a truly depressing experience. So how in the world can one “be joyful” after considering all the facts?

“Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.”

The key phrase in this sentence is “even though.” It’s the phrase that connects two seemingly differing statements (“be joyful” and “you have considered all the facts”). It’s what makes the statement balanced. The kind of joy that’s encouraged is not a blissfully ignorant nor delusional kind of joy. It’s a joy that is actively chosen, “even though” there are so many other reasons not to be joyful.

Yes, being joyful can be a choice. How do I find joy in writing? Finding that phrase that serves and sings its purpose. Hearing the voice of a character whose dialogue and interior monologues make me laugh, and sometimes cry. Immersing myself into my manuscript and resurfacing back to the real world only to discover hours have passed by and my stomach is rumbling. Re-reading something rough that I had written long ago and knowing now that I can fix it.

“Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.”

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