It’s late. Amidst moving boxes, I’m trying to squeeze a bit of time in to tell you a story about how joy is an act of beautiful rebellion.
But it turns out that writing about joy when it feels rebellious is really, really difficult. I’m tired, a little frightened, and sad. And tonight, writing about joy is beyond me. The best I can do is share honestly about why joy feels hard. So if you’re looking for a story that affirms, yes, life is too much these days, sit here for a while, friend. It would feel good not to tell the story alone.
*Trigger warning: This story includes content referencing recent shootings, violence, and harm. Please proceed with self-care.
The spray of gunfire jolted me awake. Eight shots. I heard them unmistakably, but disbelievingly.
Another burst of eight to ten shots, and my husband and I each rolled out of the bed and onto the floor. Aaron was already dialing 911 by the time the third burst of shots rang out.
My mind reeled, “We will be safe. We’re two stories above the ground. Surely the shooter isn’t on foot. Surely he’s not hunting people tonight.”
The dispatcher on the other side of the line assured us the police were on it. I lay wrapped in a blanket with our puppy on the floor for a while; Aaron took his post in the living room, lying on the couch but alert, until he saw the police arrive an hour and a half later.
Neither one of us slept well. Neither one of us felt safe.
Morning light revealed the disturbing and yet miraculous: shots shattered the glass and pummeled the bricks of four businesses right across the street from us during the night, but not a single patron or employee at any of those businesses was struck. Thank God. Nearly thirty bullet casings were recovered at the scene.
The shooting lodged in my being as just the latest in a growing line of still foreign realities that make me feel fragile, distrusting, and wildly out of control in protecting the world my loved ones and I inhabit. That night, I had already fallen asleep with a weary heart–roughly 400 miles away, ten people were gunned down in a supermarket in an act of pure racial hatred. Another one.
I’m still unsure what motivated the gunfire that awoke me hours later. Whatever it was, it was more reckless, violent hate.
As I felt that hatred rolling over me, my mind couldn’t even fathom that it was coming for school children in Uvalde. We had already unknowingly started counting down–10, 9, 8, 7…
A week after that it would be Tulsa. By the time you are reading this, there will likely have been another.
This is life. A fabric that once felt connected and whole, now rent in two and fraying away.
This is life, drowning in reports of cops killing husbands, daughters, fathers of color. Unarmed black and brown bodies. Another one. Another one. Another one.
This is life, still continuously adjusting to a global pandemic.
Life where groceries and gas don’t fit in a budget line like they should because there’s war in Eastern Europe.
Life where free democracies are under attack. And free-range chicken is out of stock.
Standing in the supermarket aisle the morning after I slept on the floor and Aaron held watch, I’m holding Italian sausage in one hand and salmon in the other, doing the calculus to adjust our dinners this week with the proteins I have available. As I pivot, I try to not feel shame that I have profiled the white guy in a maroon hoodie to my left who has no groceries yet. I’m clocking his motions. I am studying his hands out of the corner of my eye.
Here, close to the deli man and with a chest full of sobs that I’ve just gotten too tired to keep sobbing, joy feels outright rebellious to me.
Hope, kindness, and empathy do, too.
These days, staying human is its own form of brave resistance.
Humanity says, “No, evil, you will not consume us. You will not keep us from living.”
I’m writing to you tonight amidst moving boxes, longing to stay human. That’s why Aaron and I are moving, I guess. Not to the house we’ve been saving for and hoping to buy in a truly bananas market. But to another place to rent. A place that, today, feels like joy.
It’s somewhere a little quieter, with big, lush trees I can see while stirring homemade spaghetti sauce on the stove. Somewhere with extra bedrooms, so family dreams can start to grow. Somewhere we hope will yield many nights of laughter with friends, like this home has. Somewhere to plant a garden, maybe? Somewhere to begin again.
Austin Channing Brown has done such beautiful work confronting systemic racism and yet also choosing rebellious joy. Her words on joy are wondrous, bold, and a balm to any who feel weary of injustice and long to see the world made right. I find this thought of hers particularly beautiful:
“I am human and my human dignity demands that I, too, experience unadulterated joy.”
You, too, are human, friend. You, too, deserve unadulterated joy.
Now with that, I have a few more boxes to get to. Thanks for sitting awhile.
Katy (Johnson) Stafford dreams, writes, and occasionally podcasts in the messy middle of life. Newly married, Katy is spending her 30s embracing hope, longing, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called In Love, a memoir about loving your life beyond white picket fences. Occasionally, she also shares her thoughts here.