William Bortz, “joy—”

Not often, but sometimes, we’ll be asked to list joys. To count blessings, show ourselves we should be grateful. To inspire a feeling, remind ourselves of how we could feel.

Can we define joy? Find the essence of the list?

William Bortz

a pinpoint of light across a violent gorge.


Some might stop early in the definition. Why can’t joy simply be “a pinpoint of light?” Kay Ryan in “Pinhole” might be said to argue as much:

Kay Ryan

We say
A pin hole
of light. We
can’t imagine
how bright
more of it
could be,
the way
this much
defeats night.
It almost
isn’t fair,
poked this,
with such
a small act
to vanquish

A little bit of light—a pinpoint, a pin prick—stops darkness from being complete. The smallness, I think, leads a few to say that if you don’t find hope or joy in every situation, that’s your fault. That somehow, if you’re subject to waves of abuse and neglect, you still need to be grateful for the grains of sand on the ground because they’re there.

Small miracles are real. They’re also a trap. When I list my joys nowadays, they prove to be diverse and complicated. Some joys are nothing but joy. The relief, the sense of accomplishment, the respect that came with graduation. Celebrating a friend’s wedding. But then there are joys that prove to be illusory in some respects. Dates that did go well but didn’t lead to anything greater.

And then there are joys that are real, but bound up in complexities which would take a lifetime to disentangle. Think about something accomplished at work that is a genuine contribution, and you know it. How no one else might care. How they might use it against you in especially toxic places.

There may be an element of joy which can never be denied. An element which is absolute or natural. It’s nowhere near as important as the aspects of joy which are relative.


“A pinpoint of light across a violent gorge.” 

It’s hard for me to come to terms with how people thrive on hurting each other. I’ve seen a lot of abandonment in my life, a lot of people sending the signal to others that they’re worthless or disposable. That hits people I know hard, wrecking minds and hearts and lives.

It’s hard for me to imagine there’s worse, but there is. Right now the big debate online is whether a conservative conference intentionally shaped their stage like a Nazi symbol. I read about the specific symbol. If there’s a message being sent, the message is unmistakable. It’s an insignia used by an SS unit which recruited hardliners of other ethnicities and religions in order to indulge warcrime after warcrime. It’s a call to a unity of hatred, an attempt to turn life on earth into nothing but a violent game of domination.

If depths of violence know no bounds, a pinpoint of light—one pointing to a way across, or to the flooding of the gorge with sunlight—is a most hopeful and joyous event.

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