Joy is not a four letter word As a highly self-critical poet, I’m less concerned when I find that one of my newly written poems needs resuscitation than if it comes from me without being infused with one profoundly significant element. That said, it’s interesting to note that I can’t explain where it comes from. Or why. But it’s so noticeable when it’s missing that I’m alarmed. That element is joy.
Of course, it’s not just my poetry that joy nourishes. Relationships, too, can perish without it. I’m sure that’s why I feel like I’m staggering when I have a fight with someone I love. Often, joy perishes in such an environment. Indeed, a measure of the affection I share with that person is the extent to which I’ll go to reclaim our joy.
Most often, if I have wronged someone I love, I mourn when I find that the joy we’d created is irretrievable. Few things in life are as binding as joy shared with another human being whether a partner or a child, a friend or a relative. Few things are as painful to lose.
Reacting to such loss with temerity appears to be the norm. We retreat, shield our hearts, play our music a little louder. Instead, I’ve learned to grieve, to let those terrible feelings that come with confrontation shake me as if a storm were passing through me.
The process is never pleasant. But it’s essential. If I block the pain, it grows. If I pretend it’s not there, it infuses some other part of my life. So I allow it to grind its way through me. It can and has reduced me to a whimpering heap.
Losing love and its joy has that power. However, refusing to allow the impact of the dire effects to ripple through almost guarantees a kind of emotional damage that can permanently transform a person by replacing their openness to joy with wariness.
Knowing that causes me to place an extremely high value on comedians like Jackie Mason and Mel Brooks. Most often, they translate trauma or rely on it to stir creative juices. For them, the process becomes a discipline.
It came as no surprise when I found this about Mel Brooks at WIKIPEDIA:
…His father died of kidney disease, at 34, when Brooks was two years old. Brooks has said of his father's death, that "there's an outrage there. I may be angry at God, or at the world, for that. And I'm sure a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility. Growing up in Williamsburg, I learned to clothe it in comedy to spare myself problems—like a punch in the face. "
Jackie Mason, although just as funny as Brooks, is more combative:
Mason counseled Israeli leaders to consider the total expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. Mason and Raoul Felder wrote, “We have paralyzed ourselves by our sickening fear of World Opinion, which is why we find it impossible to face one simple fact: We will never win this war unless we immediately threaten to drive every Arab out of Israel if the killing doesn't stop.” They added:
“We are brain-dead if we accept the idea that we have to guess which Arab is our next killer. We are not obligated to victimize ourselves by letting the Arabs play Russian roulette with Jewish lives…” (WIKIPEDIA)
As an antidote to his perceptions of injustice, Jackie Mason makes people laugh. Chances are he finds joy in that as well as those small things in life, such as moments two people share when far from the rest of the world. That seemed the case when my partner and I saw and spoke to him at a tiny restaurant in Manhattan.
Today, I may return to the road to joy if I’m able to connect with my new classes of students. It may find its way back into my writing as my heart passes through an eclipse of sadness. I look forward to that, look forward to reclaiming those possibilities that joy produces.
That thought will never be far from me today as I think of my children, my mother, my family, my friends, and, especially, my partner and all the joy I have never stopped wanting to continue sharing with them.
Not a laughing matter: A plea about and in behalf of a young soldier I admire:
My name is David Wahl. I am the father of Michael Behenna’s girlfriend Shannon Wahl and run the DefendMichael.com website. I have known Michael for several years going back to when Michael and Shannon first started dating. I attended Michael’s officer school graduation at Fort Benning, his Ranger school graduation, and his deployment to Iraq from Fort Campbell. I was in the courtroom for Michael’s trial for premeditated murder at Fort Campbell, including the moment when a jury of seven non-combat officers convicted him of unpremeditated murder. I witnessed the stunned look of betrayal on Michael’s face. I was in that same courtroom again three weeks later when the trial judge denied a request for a mistrial on a Brady law violation (the government had withheld evidence.) And I was in the small room at the back of that courtroom with Michael and his family for his last thirty minutes of freedom before he was taken away.
These past four years that Michael has sat in a small prison cell at Fort Leavenworth have been a tortuous journey for those closest to him – but as you can imagine, most of all for his parents Vicki and Scott. They have endured the emotional pain of seeing their son treated as a criminal at the hands of a broken and blind military justice system, of five hour drives to ‘celebrate’ birthdays and holidays in a noisy visitation center, of the heartbreak of one court ruling after another go against Michael, of bizarre prison rules that change from visit to visit and which make civilian prisons look like Club Med.
But beyond the emotional toll that the Behenna’s have carried is the financial burden of taking on the United States government that has unlimited resources at their disposal (our tax dollars hard at work.) Starting with the original trial to the CAAF appeal which we lost by a narrow 3-2 vote the Behenna’s have spent well over $400,000 in their fight for their son’s freedom. I know that so many of you have already graciously stepped forward and lightened this financial burden, but unfortunately a significant shortfall remains. And if the Supreme Court decides to hear Michael’s case that shortfall will grow by at least another $100,000.
The Behenna’s are a proud family and asking for financial support is not something they are comfortable doing, especially given how many people are in need today, including so many fellow Oklahoman’s devastated by the recent tornados. So I humbly ask each of you who believe in Michael’s cause, to consider giving a few dollars to his legal fund, which can be found on his web site at www.defendmichael.com. If each one of the thousands of supporters of Michael gave $20 then the Behenna’s would be able to cover most of the current deficit. Donations can be made through PayPal on Michael’s web site, or if you prefer you can mail a check directly to his Michael’s defense fund at:
Michael Behenna Legal Defense Fund
c/o Jack Dawson, co-trustee
100 Park Avenue, Second Floor
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73102-8099
Please know that your support for Michael, whether in the form of a donation, a card, or a letter, is appreciated more than words can say. For Michael and his parents this difficult journey has only been possible because of the outpouring of support from all of you. It has sustained them in their darkest hours, of which there have been many. Finally, please keep Michael in your thoughts and prayers as we await the ultimate decision by the highest court in the land on whether they will hear Michael’s case.
I remain, now and forever, a proud supporter of a young man who some day I hope will be my son-in-law.