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In these times of intense despair, joy is an act of resistance

York Dispatch Editorial Board

For some, the despair is palpable.

It is an emotion not merely felt but a state of being, a living thing that can be smelled, tasted, touched. It becomes all-encompassing, ever-present, at times inescapable.

We have, in our dealings personal and public, encountered it on street corners and around dinner tables, outside courtrooms and inside homeless shelters, in passing encounters at the store and in intimate conversations with loved ones.

The holidays are always depicted as a happy time — of celebration and thanksgiving — but, for so many, these holidays are marked by the tragedy and uncertainty of this pandemic's third winter.

Like most everyone else, we at The York Dispatch can recount so many lives touched by tragedy — even in the last few weeks. We know people who's loved ones are gravely ill and who are struggling with family strife. Still others have lost jobs, are struggling with raising children or caring for vulnerable loved ones in the midst of this period of protracted grief.

So what do we do with all of this despair?

It's helpful to remember the difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness is a passing emotion, something easily affected by circumstance. A satisfying meal can momentarily bring happiness. So can a thoughtful gift, a Christmas card or an entertaining movie or TV show.

Joy is a different beast.

The theologian Willie James Jennings said it better than we can: "I look at joy as an act of resistance against despair and its forces — all the forces of despair."

He said that in 2014, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but his words resonate regardless of the specific tribulations of any one time.

Joy is a practice — much in the way, perhaps, that despair can become a practice. At its core, joy is unconditional love. It lives on inside of you, no matter what the external circumstances of your day entail.

When facing great hardship, Jennings said, it's essential to continue to be with the people, to create the spaces and to commit to the acts of kindness that foster joy.

For some, joy is inextricably connected to faith. Whatever your religion, virtually all of them believe in some form of innate, unconditional love imbued by a creator. Even if you don't adhere to a specific organized religion, we all have a light inside of us. And all of us can find joy in these trying times.

It is natural to feel despair at the routine tragedies we witness every day and at the personal struggles that play out in our own families.

But the paths to joy run parallel to the paths of despair.

So, this holiday season, remember to ask how your friends are doing, pay compliments to strangers and share jokes whenever you can. Most importantly, try to assume the best about the motivations of others. Odds are, they're experiencing struggles you can only begin to fathom.

And, when your own forces of despair come to call, reach out to friends who can lend a sympathetic ear.

It's really that simple.

We wish you joy.