My week was full of small joys: thistle and cottonwood, large toads, new television shows.

Sometimes joy presents itself unexpectedly, like the toad hiding behind a fallen cottonwood tree on a walk by a river with my parents. My dad was forging ahead, seeking out the water. My mom and I were trailing behind when I spotted a toad camouflaged in the underbrush. “It’s a small toad!” I told my mom. She corrected me. It was a large toad, apparently. There’s some disagreement here. Either way, we paused to admire it.

Sometimes joy is carefully planned, like the planning I had to do to arrange a music playing session with a friend from Albuquerque. There was rescheduling and cleaning and driving that all had to be done to make it happen, but the actual playing music together part left me in a good mood for the rest of the week.

Sometimes joy is impulsive. I was on the hunt for new jeans. My old jeans had developed an unfortunate hole. Not where you want a hole in your pants. I located some suitable jeans, a nice dark wash, good fit, very comfortable. Then I found them: a pair of ankle boots marked down to $12. Despite the fact I do not NEED new shoes, I spent the $12. They’re kind of the perfect shoes. I keep finding myself dancing around the office in them and doing high kicks at Caitie to celebrate the new jeans.

Sometimes joy seems impossibly elusive. Some situations grind us so far down into ourselves that joy is no longer available.

Three years ago I was sexually assaulted. As you’d probably guess, it was terrible. It made me feel unsafe. It made me feel unwell. It began to steal the joy away from the regular things in my life. I think sometimes it feels safest to run away from problems instead of looking directly at them. I went all the way to Mississippi.

I don’t necessarily recommend running away as a problem solving strategy, but for me, a new place was a useful way to grow and to find myself again.

Then there was the pandemic, a gigantic collective tragedy that has touched everyone’s lives. For the first few months of the pandemic, I felt more ground down than ever before. As many many other people experienced, my work felt more stressful and more crucial than it had before. I felt isolated. I was afraid. Then something shifted.  I’m not sure what or why, but I was no longer overwhelmed.

I started journaling again, examining the small details in my life. I held up to the light the little tiny things that brought me joy and gratitude and made me feel connected to the rest of the universe. At some point I stopped feeling overstressed, although many of the external stresses had not changed. Perhaps my body adjusted to the new normal. Really I have no idea what changed internally or externally to make me feel capable and brave again. I wish I knew, for my own future reference.

I think joy is a thing we can cultivate. When you’re looking for it, it’s not so hard to find. So often it’s hiding just under the next fallen tree. I also think life is not a path walked alone. Despair is part of the human condition. Grief is part of being a person. Whatever burden you are lifting, you do not have to carry it alone. There are so many people out in the world available to offer support or love or professional help or medication, if that’s what the problem takes. The small joys are still out there waiting to be found, even if they are not available right at this moment.

Cathy Cook, El Defensor Chieftain