Level Letters: When Joy is a Duty

Rory (my dog) and I were out walking on an unexpectedly sunny and pleasant evening this week when a jogger asked “How are you?” in passing. Without thinking, I heard myself say “Great!”

Through the past several months, I’ve often answered that question carefully. Honestly, but carefully.

As the jogger approached, moved by, and would–I knew–soon be past, I answered his question for that moment. The sun was shining, I was out with my dog, and was exchanging a genuine smile with a stranger in my neighborhood. The moment was indeed great.

I had not suddenly forgotten about the events of the world, but in that moment, I was present, and it felt like release. We need that release.

You can hold dualities and it is wastefully exhausting to deny that fact. You can hold deep sorrow and grief, be unsure of what’s next, and simultaneously embrace a moment of simple joy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you must.

In order to go on doing the difficult, complex, enduring work, you must also allow yourself moments of joy, levity, and pleasure. When times are hard and the work is glaring, present, constant: this is when true care for yourself is most deeply necessary. This is when joy is a duty. You not only “should” care for your self, you have a responsibility to care for yourself; your ability to care for others and go on with purposeful work depends on it. Your soul was built for joy. Joy is self-care.

Sometimes this looks like the stereotypes you’re probably envisioning right about now (a bubble bath, a good candle). More often, it doesn’t.

You can hold dualities:

Care for yourself by learning more about the things you don’t understand. Nourish yourself by engaging in the work you know is important. Care for yourself–and for the world–by recognizing you are a good person, but you can always be a better one.

Also care for yourself by laughing deep belly laughs–at a favorite show, your pet playing, or your kid babbling. Find moments of radiant happiness, no matter how dark the day feels. Sustain yourself by being fully present for cooking a meal, or a good cup of coffee, or a dance party to a song you love.

When you pour into yourself, you pour into the people you love. When you love yourself, you create the capacity to love the world well. Find the moments of joy. This too, is your charge.

– LL

I don’t know that “Daymakers” is the appropriate title for these this week. How about this? Here are a couple of ways you might enjoy caring for yourself, across the spectrum of self-care discussed above. Two that might break you open, but make you better. One to make you laugh and lend a hand to finding those moments of joy.

Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk
Bryan Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy and has spent the majority of his life working in the justice system of the United States. Dip your toe in the water with this 15 minute TED Talk.

Just Mercy Movie
This is an excellent film based on Bryan Stevenson’s (yeah, that guy from the TED talk you just watched!) book. This made me cry, but also gave me a lot to consider that I had previously looked away from. Well worth the watch! Plus, it’s free to rent on Amazon this month.

Jimmy Fallon & Jennifer Lopez “Watch it Once” TikTok Challenge
Pure fun. Jimmy Fallon & J Lo watch a few of the viral TikTok dance choreography videos then do their best to replicate them. 7 minutes, so short, sweet, and funny.


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