Coconut by Paul Hostovsky
Bear with me. I
want to tell you
it’s hard to get at,
but the thing is
I wasn’t looking.
I was looking
when my son found it,
in the fruit section
and came running
holding it out
in his small hands,
asking me what
it was and could we
keep it? it only
cost 99 cents.
hairy and brown
hard as a rock
and something swishing
and what on earth
and where on earth
and this was happiness—
this little ball
of interest, beating
inside his chest.
from his face, pleading
and because I wasn’t
happy, I said
to put it back
because I didn’t want it.
because we didn’t need it.
and because he was happy,
he started to cry,
right there in aisle
five. so when we
got it home, we
put it in the middle
of the kitchen table
and sat on either
side of it and began
to consider how
to get inside of it.
Isn’t it incredible how much joy something so simple can bring?
A mere novelty for many of us, who are used to this fuzzy brown fruit.
But for a child, there is such unexpected delight in this object.
And as I look at this fruit, smell it, feel its hairs, shake it to listen to the coconut water slosh around inside, I am reminded how seemingly far joy feels from me right now.
For two years, I have cut myself off from the joy of meeting friends for lunch or traveling for pleasure. Inviting a family member into the house becomes a delicate dance of safety and respect around health boundaries and vaccination statuses.
And now we’re witnessing our first European land war in decades, with thousands of civilians fleeing their country or being brutally murdered—deliberately targeted by a ruthless, power-hungry autocrat. If that isn’t redundant, I don’t know what is.
Never mind the brutal civil wars in Syria and Afghanistan. Or the war on immigrants who try to cross our borders for a better, safer life who are then locked in cages or sent back in despair for their effort.
Or the war we’ve seen waged in the media and by conspiracy theorists who wield misinformation like a holy book and dance in ethical and moral gray areas in the name of freedom.
Or the war we’ve waged on Mother Earth for decades in the name of capitalism only to strip her of her resources and leave her naked and angry in the process.
Honestly, joy has felt elusive to me off and on for many years, not just in these past few years of political upheaval and a worldwide pandemic.
I actually first noticed how far I felt from joy on a regular basis about 12 years ago.
I was shopping at a local gift shop. In the shop they had these charming little puzzle piece necklaces. On one side of the puzzle piece it says, “I am” while on the other side, it offers some sort of uplifting adjective.
I found one that said “Magnificent” and thought I’d get it for my cousin Megan. M is for Megan who is Magnificent. I kept looking and found one that said “Awesome”. Megan’s sister is Abby who is Awesome. (In her humble opinion she would agree.)
These two women and I were raised together like sisters so of course I too wanted one, but what starts with “J”? I found nothing in the basket and so asked the shop owner if she knew if there was a token with an adjective that starts with “J”. As she was searching, I mused aloud,
“What the heck would it even say? I am… Juicy?”
Isn’t it funny that the word “Joy” never even occurred to me?
When she pulled out the catalog and told me that it was “Joy”, I was like “Oh! Of course!” but I felt like an imposter even contemplating purchasing it. Up to that point, I had very little joy in my life, so Jessica being “joy” seemed absurd. But since they didn’t have a necklace that said, “I am Juicy” I felt I had no other choice and bought it.
As is the law of synchronicities, from then on, all I saw was “Joy” everywhere. I’d notice it in signs, in art, in prose, in advertising. I’d even meet women named Joy, when that had never been the case before. My eyes and heart were drawn to it over and over again, even though I was still feeling the opposite.
Joy. Joy. Joy.
All these years later, I have learned, or perhaps unlearned, so many things to help me cultivate a very different relationship with joy. In fact, I would consider myself on the whole to be a rather joyful person at heart.
Because after that experience at the gift shop and recognizing just how far from joy I had gotten, I began making different decisions in my life, sure. But more importantly, though, I began to notice that I experience joy far more in my everyday life than I ever recognized. I was just so unhappy and unfulfilled in my life and my work that I was on autopilot and missing out on the simple yet profound beauty of the world around me.
You see, I thought joy had to be this big boisterous explosion of gleeful emotion in order for it to be real. For it to count. Perhaps it’s due to the ignorance of youth but it’s also essentially what our culture programs us to believe—that we constantly need new things and new experiences and new perspectives—or even just a roll of Mentos candies—to feel joyful.
What I learned though, is that joy can be as simple as a fuzzy brown fruit. I mean, this coconut was grown on a tree in Mexico. And it flew in a giant metal “bird” all the way across the country. Where I drove in a car to a giant building with thousands of varieties of foods from all around the planet, where I could pick it out and come share it with you—my friends from all around the country and possibly the world.
And while there are many days that I still struggle and feel burdened by the heaviness of the world, I am able to find and experience these everyday moments of joy much more easily than ever before because now I realize that joy is all around me—around us—all the time.
It’s tucking into a heaping pile of freshly homemade biscuits and gravy when I’m ravenously hungry.
It’s in the look of absolute freedom on my puppy’s face as he tears around the yard at top speed, experiencing the sheer pleasure of moment after moment of total and complete embodiment.
Joy is in the blessing of a bright, sunny day with bright, blue skies while there’s fresh snow on the ground.
And it is in the pounding rain on my window and the bright flash of lighting as I sit in anticipation of the clangorous crash of thunder.
Joy is in the goofy, nonsensical secret patter between families or best friends. It’s in the giggles and snorts at poop jokes or farting noises.
It was even in the moment when I was at the self checkout line with these two fuzzy coconuts and when the machine couldn’t scan it, I imagined the look on the face of the clerk who had to come help me.
Joy is everywhere.
In a quiet moment of prayer.
Or in the tiniest crocus that bursts forth from frozen ground and dead leaves right there in the middle of your lawn.
And in the cawing of the crows that are perched in the tree just outside your window as they sing to each other of mischief and mirth.
Joy can be found in watching a child watch the world in wonder.
Or in watching the world in wonder as if through the eyes of a child.
Because we all have access to that feeling. It’s always there.
Joy is available to us every day.
In big ways and in small.
In coconuts. In music. Even in the wind.
We simply must learn to recognize it when it happens and learn to let ourselves linger with it just a moment longer.
As poet Mary Oliver says:
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.
We are not wise, and not very often kind.
And much can never be redeemed.
Still life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world.
It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins.
Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty.
Joy is not made to be a crumb.