Tag-Archive for » joy «

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 | Author:

If you told me 12 years ago that my world would change forever in a few months, I either wouldn’t have believed you, or I wouldn’t have been thankful at Thanksgiving. Not really.

I probably would’ve said that I’d be grateful — good, strong church kid that I was. But I wouldn’t have been. I’d have tallied it up with my chronic illness in the category of “things in which I just can’t get a break.” There would’ve been nothing sincere left in the “Thankful for” column as I was already an angsty teen.

I was 14 and I was thankful. Until my sister died. Then I was mad at the world and wore a fake smile.

Through many years, though, we rebuilt a “new normal.” I found people inside my family and out that felt like home. We created a good life together. A great life together.

In time, I was thankful again. So thankful. Abundantly thankful. My line was, “There’s not anywhere else in the world I’d rather me, nor anything else I’d rather be doing, than being here now, doing what I do.” And I meant it. I meant it down all the way through the drain pipes of my soul.

Three years ago you could not have wrung more thankfulness from my heart on Thanksgiving than I freely gave.

I had pre-thanksgiving thanksgiving (my brother’s term — friendsgiving to the rest of the world) the week before with some of my dearest, life-long friends. On the day of, I woke up, played football with many people that I loved and did life with everyday, while others in that same vein watched us play, then I spent the mealtime with my family. We watched all of the Thanksgiving episodes of friends and went to a movie — new traditions since Julie died. I remember thinking I could die then and still be happy. I was so thankful for my life. it was beautiful in so many ways.

If you had told me then that 40 days later I’d be alone, broken, with an inability for thankfulness again, I’d have believed you — but I probably would’ve hit you, too. Because I knew life was so beautiful, but so fragile, that I wouldn’t have wanted to know ahead.

But you’d have been right. 40 days later, I’d be holed up in my apartment, alone, broken, not just ungrateful, but stunned altogether. Once the dry heaves and violent sobs subsided, I was a zombie of grief and brokenness for a while. Then, after a few months, like the 14 year old me, I learned how to pretend to smile sometimes.

It would be four months before I smiled again for real. It would be a year and a half before I felt hope again. It would be two years until I felt free again. And it would be this past summer that I felt at home again.

But I do. I feel at home. I drive down the road and like a woman in the first stages of love, I see life in a rose-colored hue. The trees on the side of the road shine. The grass in the Kansan fields seems majestic. The cashier at the grocery store’s friendliness is energizing. The river water soothes my mind as I walk along its same course.

I have retained friends that I was sure I’d lose along the way, but they stayed. They came back. And they say things like “hey, just so you know, even if you f*** up big time and it’s completely your fault somewhere in life, I’m still here. I’m with you.” I have people that are my people that live scattered around the country and around the world and I know that they love me.

I am in love with life, and the people in it, and every day I’m in awe because of something.

I’m in a new town where I still don’t know a lot of people. I create marketing plans and serve sushi for a living, and I spend most nights watching Netflix with my dog, but even still, I’m in love with life again. I feel alive and free and at home again.

And once again, this is the most thankful I have ever been. I am thankful for new normals. For old and new friends. And especially thankful for new homes (*cough* Wichita *cough*).

When it comes down to it, this is what I’ve learned about life — Joy is a choice. You have to choose it. And keep choosing it. And thankfulness comes with it. Or visa versa, not really sure, I haven’t achieved yoda-level yet. I’m still learning.

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for it all. I’m thankful for you all.


 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015 | Author:

A couple of years ago I was visiting my friend on her night shift at work and she had to leave to go tend to an issue. I sat waiting for her, and while I waited I replied to a friend’s text asking what I was doing with a picture of the barren room: “hanging at my friend’s work. Riveting.”

I was just being sassy, as I tend to be sometimes.

“Bored?” he asked.

It so caught me off guard that I remember it to this day. Because no, I wasn’t bored. I was waiting. Obviously he was just responding to my wording. A sarcastic “riveting” would usually mean “bored” I realized. But it took me by surprise and I had to think for a moment before I responded.

Because this is the thing: I’m not a mother, so I don’t hear the word bored very often. I don’t have children around me who complain of being bored and most of the adult friends I have in my life are productive people with pretty full schedules. I didn’t realize that bored was as much missing from my lifestyle as it was missing from my regular vocabulary.

It reminded me of a time when I was a kid and I heard a friend talk about being bored. Her mom responded saying, “If you guys can’t find something to play, I have lots of chores I can give you to keep you busy.” We found something to play.

I don’t actually recall ever being “bored” in my life except for two instances: one was when I was reading Jane Eyre late at night and was struggling to stay awake because the way she wrote it droned on and on and I declared her style a bit “boring.” And the other was a math class I had in high school where the teacher had incredible monotone-syndrome. But even in that class, we found ways to entertain ourselves (namely, sharing earbuds and listening to Dane Cook while we did our math work).

Aside from that I was always playing something, taking care of responsibilities, coming up with “adventures,” or creating something or another.

And what I’ve learned is that there’s three ways to fight boredom. You can do, create, or consume.

Some people spend entire days watching Netflix. Heck, when I was in college especially, there were many days that we spent in someone’s dorm room watching episode after episode of some show or another. We were not bored, though admittedly we could’ve done more with our time.

But one of the real gifts of my life was when I first lived alone and I didn’t have internet at home.

The internet thing was a decision I made just to save money. But what it ended up doing was making me very comfortable, very content with just being me, just entertaining myself by myself. There was no Netflix or Facebook or any of the other myriad time-fillers I’d been used to in my college days.

Last year around this time I was living alone in a city where I still had literally no friends I hung out with, and I started to make art. More and more art. Art everyday that I wasn’t doing something else. Sometimes I’d consume while I created by watching a movie or the seasons of FRIENDS that I own on DVD, but I continued to create at a rate that I’m actually shocked at when I look back. In the year of 2014 I created over 80 completed art works, when I had done maybe 1-2 in any previous year. Over half of those were done in the first 3 months of the year before I had friends to hang out with.

I also started writing last year regularly. (Oh hey, if you didn’t know, I blog on here every week courtesy of me finding things to do with my time while I lived alone. End of shameless plug.) I’d heard someone say that writing a book is the loneliest thing you’ll ever do, so I thought, “I should start writing, and maybe write a book, because I’m lonely right now anyway.”

But also in living alone I got this gift against boredom: it taught me how to be content and interested when I’m by myself. To be able to sit quietly, and soak in the sun, or hear the birds chirp, or breathe in the steam from a warm cup of coffee. It taught me the joy and the rest in being still without being bored.

Now I’m coming into a busy season of life again and it’s energizing and exciting. But above all the ways my life has taught me how to not be bored, how to make the most of my time, and how to be content with others as we spend time together without grand things to do, I value the lesson I’ve learned about how to enjoy being still and taking a breath perhaps the most. It’s in the busy seasons when it’d be easiest to not do so, but when it’s most refreshing as well.

So, sorry future kids, but you don’t get the option of being bored. I think that will be a main house rule. Life’s too short to squander in boredom.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, January 13th, 2015 | Author:

I have a tattoo that you don’t know about.

It is on the bottom of my foot, so you only see it if I am barefooted and have my feet up with the soles facing you.

But I sit barefooted with my legs crossed often, so it’s often visible to me, an important reminder:

“enough”

Simple word. Weird spelling. We use it in mostly negative or neutral ways. It’s hardly ever a positive thing when we breath it.

“I wasn’t driving slow enough.”

“I didn’t realize soon enough.”

“I didn’t tell her I loved her enough.”

“I’m not thin enough.”

“I’m not healthy enough.”

“I don’t have enough money.”

Often we use it in ways that connote that there could be more, but we’ll settle for this.

“I guess that’s good enough,” When we just want to be done.

“No, that’s fine, that’s enough,” when we’re conceding half-heartedly, like a bartering salesman over some agreement.

Or maybe you heard it a lot as a child when your mother/babysitter/teacher was so annoyed she couldn’t take another minute of your playing/fighting/arguing/crying: “Enough!” they would yell.

But the word, it’s real meaning, lends itself to the idea of being content. Which is not a thing we’re taught to want or seek. To just have enough sounds like settling, like you’re too lazy to go for more. Too apathetic to get the things ambition could earn you.

And it causes this “not enough” complex in us. Come time for New Year’s resolutions, they take that tone, too. I’m not skinny enough – so I will work out more. I’m not healthy enough, so I’ll eat better. I don’t read enough – I’ll read more. I don’t have enough money — I will save more. My life isn’t exciting enough – I will travel more.

But too often at the root of all of those thoughts and great goals is an ugly belief that I think the majority of us have learned to hold close to the chest, like a security blanket that chokes out the light of possible contentment — I am not enough.

Not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, fast enough, strong enough, rich enough, powerful enough, friendly enough, sexy enough, funny enough, spiritual enough, important enough.

We have the gluttonous mentality that always wants “more.”  There’s always some way we could and should have more or be more. Which in all honesty, is true. There’s a world out there, and it could be your oyster. But what I’m finding is that the people I know who are happy are content. The people that I know who are successful are ambitious.

But the people who are both successful and happy — those people have learned something that doesn’t seem to come naturally: How to be content with what you have, yet still imagine that more might be attainable. It’s not the same relentless, never-ending drive that compels them. It’s curiosity, determination, true drive, not need.

The desire to better themselves is not based in a need to do so to feel valuable. It’s not because they’re not “enough” already. It’s the ambition that says “I could do even more,” not, “I have to do more.”

So if no one has ever told you let me do so now: You are enough.

The very fact that you’re alive and being, that means you’re enough. If you have goals to be more ______, by all means go for them! The problem is, many of us chase those goals out of a desire to feel more valuable as a human being at the end of the day, and that will always leave us dissatisfied.

When you start to finally forgive yourself for the ways you’ve claimed you’ve fallen short, and you start to believe that you are enough just as you are, you can begin to find contentment. It’s one of the most elusive currencies in our society. Contentment can drive you to want to better yourself without feeling like you’re not enough as you are.

Being content starts with accepting yourself, and being more than OK with what you have. I’m on a journey to strip the stigma from the word in my life.

“enough”

It sits there on the arch of my foot as a reminder: I am enough. You are enough. You are valuable, beautiful, loved. It says we’re valuable, just because we are.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 | Author:

“How are you?” he asked me, having come up to me in church and hugged me.

“I’m OK,” I said, though eyes rimmed in tear-smeared mascara-clad eyelashes. I smiled.

Then the tears started again softly. Unexpected kindness brings them out. Well, it’s one of the things.

“Sorry,” I said, laughing, pulling a kleenex from my coat pocket to wipe away the small tears. “This is just what I do these days, I guess.”

 

I’ve been told that after women give birth to children, for the rest of their lives their you-know-whats will have a few instances that will just never be the same. Example: apparently while jumping rope (like when working out at Crossfit, not because they’re jump rope champs that want to re-live the glory days) they will pee a little bit.  I’ve actually been at Crossfit competitions with some of the toughest ladies I’ve ever seen, and they’ll be doing the double-unders part of the competition (you have the get the jump rope under your feet twice per every jump), and they’ll start peeing themselves. What’s more, everyone on the side-lines watching will then urge them to just keep going. A very odd thing to witness for the first time, but surprisingly common. Competitive, strong, grown women peeing themselves in public, all because they’ve had kids and their bodies are changed by the dramatic experience. While most things go back to normal, some things never do, apparently.

That has happened with my tear ducts. As I’ve become well-acquainted with loss and grief and pain, my eyes learned to cry. I thought they knew how before, but it’s like they went through labor, and now sometimes, they just flow on their own and I’m over here like “Come on eyes, get a grip! We’re just jump-roping!” I am like Jude Law in The Holiday: “I’m a weeper. A film, a good birthday card — I weep.”

This is not a new revelation, though. I’ve been a weeper for a couple of years now, and learned to embrace it as a part of the new me that I’m discovering and building.

What is new, though, is that in this past year, as I have come alive again, as I have chosen to love life again, as I have found joy again, I have found that my laughs are louder and more common, too.

I laugh often now. Un-stifled. I find that there is lots in life worth laughing about, and I find myself surprised at how hard and how loud I am laughing. At movies. At shows. At my friend’s jokes. At myself. It’s like as I’ve chosen to find joy in life again, the muscles that constricted my laughter went through labor, and now they’re just not as strong, and before I know it I have laughter flowing out of me like the pee down that Crossfit mom’s leg. It just happens and I can’t stop it. And when I’m with people who laugh too, it’s even worse. And by worse, I mean better.

Sometimes, when I laugh too hard and too unexpectedly, there is this laugh that comes out of me that sounds very much like a seal barking. I’ve been embarrassed about it for years, but in the past months it’s becoming more and more common. It’s definitely not an attractive laugh. But I’ve embraced it as the sign that my laughter must come out. That it has been in me untapped for too long. That it is ready to show itself loud and proud — like the seals on the warf in San Francisco. (Not what I’d always hoped to be, but at least the seals look happy.)

In the recent months, my seal bark as well as my regular laughs have been a common punctuation in my days. I’m laughing far more freely, far more often than I’m crying. Which may not sound like a lot, but it’s a testament to me about what life can be again. It can be joyful. It can be deep and wide and tear-filled and joy-filled. And just because my tears are common still in the midst of a life that is often still hard and often still painful, my laughs can also come freely. I can be both incredibly care-filled, and yet care-free.

I am finding that balance and that joy in life again and it is a beautiful, promising thing. As I am preparing myself to start another year, that’s my commitment — to continue to choose joy in life. To put myself in the way of the beauty of the world. To continue to work through my crap and let my tear ducts do their work where they need to. But to let my lungs give birth to laughter at the irreverent, at the comical, at the painful, at whatever they need to, as well.

So if you see me cry, it’s OK. If you hear me bark like a seal, it’s OK to laugh at me (which will actually be laughing with me). And if you see a lady start to pee herself while she’s doing double-unders, cheer her on, but maybe step back… you don’t want to get splashed.

I wish you all a year of laughter and joy. Cheers to a new year.

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P.S. I hope that analogy was worth it. Sorry, Crossfit moms. You rock.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 | Author:

About a year and a half ago, my world shattered. Today is not the day for those details. Just know that I don’t use the word “shattered” lightly. I lost people, places, calling. I used the word “decimated” a lot.

I walked around in a fog of grief: The heaviness that weights you, making every single task a deliberating, exhausting undertaking. I wasn’t even sure of how I was spending my days. Time got away from me a lot as I sat in my thoughts and memories and questions.

At the beginning, right when everything shattered, a friend sent me a quote from George Matheson that has kept me going like a light at the end of a very very long, very very dark tunnel: “Waiting with hope is very difficult, but true patience is expressed when we must even wait for hope. I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.”

This has been a season of waiting for hope. When the word “decimated” describes your life, it’s hard to have hope. I didn’t. I was hopeful for hope. And that’s a hard distinction to make, and a hard thing to admit.

This is part of a poem I wrote on January 29, 2013 in the midst of my heavy, empty season.

…Yearning for a new life, a new land, for some hope.

I can see it on the horizon, but the horizon is far away.
I hope I’ll someday get there, but it won’t be today.

I want the joy of healing, i just haven’t found it yet.
Today I’m still alone,  my companions heartache and regret.

Soon I’ll trade them in, trade them new, for hope of better things,
But today I’m lost. I cry. I grieve.

Here are some lines from a bit later in the journey:

I want to have hope
right now I have none
(I want to be done).
But I am hopeful for hope
— I believe it will come.

I have not known hope in 19 months. That is, until a few weeks ago.

The logic in my head said that things would progress in life. That I could rebuild. That in time, with effort, it wouldn’t always be like this. But my heart could not feel it, could not believe it.

But after 19 months of my heart being earnestly on the lookout for hope, I found it.

I’m like Kevin in Home Alone, having the revelation and yelling at the furnace “I’m not afraid anymore!”

DO YOU HEAR ME? I HAVE HOPE!! I FOUND IT!

My soul feels like a broken jar that leaks, but enough has run into my broken heart for long enough that what is being poured in is overcompensating for what the cracks are leaking out. It’s taken a while to fill up because of those cracks. But I’m full again, and filling still.

And I believe part the reason is that in the last few months I’ve begun to take the hard, painful, intimidating step of telling my story — to people I have known for my whole life, to people who I’m just meeting. I’m telling my painful story, again and again, and in the telling, I feel myself getting fuller. I feel the cracks in my heart and my life decreasing in their gaping size.

I believe this is the stage of grief that they call “acceptance.” I had accepted it for myself a while back. But this step of accepting my loss, accepting my story out loud, is different. It is scary and powerful and freeing.  And, it turns out, in the breathing out of the painful story, hope is breathed in.

Last week, I found myself thinking, unfiltered, “I love my life” as I went to bed. And it was true. It’s not even a great life. But I love it and the people in it. And it’s because I’m in love with life again. I’m full of hope again. I’m excited again.

large_127012194photo credit: fanz via photopin cc

Like walking down a dark tunnel toward the light at the end, I could see hope ahead of me this whole journey. My eyes were on it. My focus was toward it. But that night last week was that moment when you finally realize, you not just see the light, you are in the light. Under it. Surrounded by it. You may still be in the tunnel, but you are engulfed in the light of day ahead.

I laugh easily now. Often too loud. The loss doesn’t seem as heavy on most days. The broken pieces don’t feel so “decimated” anymore. The effort it takes to breathe is unnoticeable, as it’s meant to be. I know how I spend my days, and I spend them doing things I love, things that bring me back to life.

I am engulfed in hope.

And I’m giddy like a little kid on Christmas about the whole thing.

And to you who have walked with me through the tunnel, who have assured me that the light of day at the end is real when it felt like it was just an illusion — thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Let’s celebrate. You were right!

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com