Apparently I didn't know how to skip.
It was Easter Sunday. I was five years old. As usual, I was the only kid in a group of adults talking about grownup subjects. Out of the blue, someone began talking about skipping. When Jim Tritipoe realized I had no idea what skipping was, he took it upon himself to teach me.
I didn't know Jim all that well. But I was a kid predisposed to trust and love all adults who were my parents' friends. So, when he took my hand and led me over to the Milams' pool and then proceeded to show me how to skip, I was all in! We skipped and skipped and skipped all around the pool. And, as you can see from my face, I learned what all kids who skip come to realize: Skipping equals pure joy!
As an adult, I would often come face to face with Jim Tritipoe -- in the form of a gigantic black-and-white painting at Doodlets -- everyone's favorite shop in Santa Fe. Jim had been Theo Raven's beau, and though he had passed away years before, Theo kept the huge canvas painting of him behind the counter of her shop, where it greeted everyone who entered for decades. Every time I saw it, I was reminded of the joy of that Easter Sunday -- and my gratitude for having grown up surrounded by such joy-filled individuals.
As a little girl, I also didn't know Theo all that well. She was someone everyone I loved also loved. My parents, my brother, the Milams (who lived with us). As an adult, I fell head over heels in love with Theo -- as every single person on the planet who has known her does. I also realized why Jim and Theo had been together. Joy is a like a heat-seeking missile. The joy inside each of us is drawn to the joy in others. And Theo is, without a doubt, one of the most joy-filled people I know.
Whenever I see Theo, which is less and less frequently now that I am rarely in Santa Fe, I feel like my whole day has been blessed. I have known her my whole life. Counted her as my friend for 35 years. We share a love for dogs, travel, home as hermitage, gardening, and friendship. For all of the 35 years I have known Theo, I have always said, "When I grow up, I want to be like Theo."
When I first said it, I think I meant I want to be a tall strong working woman who is unapologetically unafraid of being her authentic self. But as we've both aged, I have watched Theo do what so few women have the courage to even try. She has never been anyone other than who she is. Like Lillian Hellman, she has never cut her conscience to this year's fashions. But she has also never fashioned herself after anything or anyone else but her own conscience.
Anne Lamott says, "Joy is the best makeup!" Which is why Theo has aged as beautifully as any woman I have ever met. She is beautiful inside and out -- exuding joy from every pore.
I still want to grow up to be like Theo. Skipping to the joy of my own truest heart -- and, like a heat-seeking missile -- finding and sharing that joy with others. But as we grow older, we get bombarded by fears about aging and health, buffeted by societal messages about youth and beauty, and weighed down by old stories about ourselves and our value in the world. We are a youth-based culture, eager for the next big new thing. We are, as the wonderful poets Amy Gerstler wrote, "suckers for the next contagious tune". We search for the next supplement, surgical procedure, face cream, or magic cure that claims to be the Fountain of Youth. And then, we often find ourselves hating who we see looking back at us in the mirror.
May I humbly recommend an alternative method: A daily practice of joy.
There are no terrifying side effects, polysyllabic artificial ingredients, invasive procedures, or impossible steps. All you have to do is remember the child in you who loved to skip or jump in puddles or toss autumn leaves in the air or laugh at totally stupid jokes, and then bring him or her out to play -- every single day. You have to give her permission to love what she loves. You have to give him permission to look the way he looks -- and then love him exactly as he is. You have to listen when she says, I want to do this or try that. And you have to prioritize that younger you as much as you prioritize all the serious shoulds on your to do list. Every single day.
Last but not least, you have to commit to sharing the joy you discover with the world. To be accountable to it and to yourself and to others. To be the heat seeking missile of joy seeking to explode your joy out into the world.
Joy is a like the perfect skipping stone. At first it appears just to skim the surface, sending tiny ripples out over a calm sea. But then those ripples spread and spread and spread. They spread across time and space, and they remind us all that our innate capacity for joy is always within us.
Joy has no expiry date. Joy never goes out of style. And joy always always connects us to who and what we love. To practice joy is to show up to this life in hope, compassion, connection, possibility, faith and grace. As such, I would like to suggest that joy is not an extracurricular activity but one of life's core curricula. To practice joy is to practice life, to practice love, to practice presence. To grow up to become the selves we dreamed of being when we were little children.
May we all grow up to be like Theo!