Surprised by Joy…and Mud!
by Iris Hardin
“Spontaneous” is not a word people use to describe me. I am a planner. I do my chores before I break for fun. I like to prepare myself for…as much as possible. I make no claims that my way of moving through the world is for everyone. But for the most part, my way works for me. For the most part. From time to time, however, even I need a break from “my way.”
Recently, I took one of these breaks when given the opportunity to spend a weekend with friends on the coast of Maine. I was reluctant because my husband would not be able to join me for the weekend, my children’s plans were not firm, and I had too much unfinished work I had been neglecting. My natural tendency was to skip the weekend away until it fit better with my plans and my family’s schedule. When the weather forecast told me that there might not be a better time to enjoy the coast of Maine, I fought my natural tendency and packed an overnight bag.
On Saturday morning, the sun was shining and the water beckoned just yards from the back deck of the house we were sharing. Seven of us piled into kayaks and paddled out into a protected inlet. This was more of a leisurely and chaotic stroll on the water than a highly-organized kayaking expedition. We looked like a group of amusement-park bumper cars out there on the water – scattered and heading in different directions one minute, converging and gently bumping into each other the next. We peeled off into smaller groups and enjoyed our time on the water. I vaguely registered then dismissed the more responsible member of our party’s warning, “Watch out for the tide as it goes out.” (I was, after all, taking a break from planning and preparing!) Some time later, my water buddy and I looked around and realized the rest of our party had headed home. And, yes, the tide had certainly receded. We paddled with more purpose. As we got closer to where we were staying, we saw we were in very little water – perhaps a foot. I could see the flat, smooth ground under the water and decided it would be nice to pull the kayak the last 50 yards or so, just wade a bit. And so I got out of the boat.
Have you ever been in quicksand? When I stepped out of my kayak, I was sucked into mud, up to my knee. I tried to steady myself with my other foot, but that went in and down, too, and I was sitting in the mucky water in an instant. The harder I tried to get up and stay up, the more I seemed to fall down (and stay down). I’m sure I was quite a sight, screaming, laughing, and filthy from my toes to my waist. I could see the house and my friends standing on the shore, waiting to pull me out of the water – I knew I was safe. Rather than fight the wet and the mess, I gave into them and enjoyed the foolishness of it all.
I am not a spontaneous person by nature. I do recognize that, from time to time, I need a vacation from all the planning and preparing. These breaks tell me that the earth doesn’t stop spinning if I watch a little baseball before doing the dinner dishes. They help me see that some of my best experiences are unplanned. They remind me that I can’t prepare for every eventuality. During these breaks, I am often surprised by joy. Because it may be disguised as a muddy mess, it helps if I’m paying attention to how I’m feeling when it arrives. Sitting in the muck instead of my kayak on that Saturday, I felt free of concern for a short time, happy to be in the company of friends who could laugh with me, and glad to be part of the mess of life. Joy is something I can’t schedule or plan for – I need to be spontaneous enough to entertain it when it surprises me!
Iris Hardin attends Andover Newton Theological School and is a candidate for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. She is married with three stepchildren in their late twenties and nineteen-year-old, twin sons. Her son Adam has autism.