My spouse and our daughter and pup and I are in the woods at a family cabin for the weekend. This, our little building in the woods with no electricity or plumbing, this is my favorite place in the world. We decided to spend our daughter’s second birthday here. We’re eating lots of watermelon and spending time in the water and the woods, and she’s got plenty of mosquito bites to show for it.
Last night my spouse pointed me toward a piece in “Yes!”, magazine. It is called “When Savoring a Pleasant Moment Is a Radical Act: Small joys are essential for resilience”, and I’ve been carrying the words with me all day. The author, Ari Honarvar, brings together our current global pandemic, the lessons from trauma experts, and Honarvar’s own experience from childhood living in Iran during the eight year Iran-Iraq war. There is no sugarcoating of anything—not of the trauma of a childhood in the midst of war nor the experience of our current pandemic—but the piece is beautiful and hopeful all the same.
Honarvar describes a scene from childhood, when their family and many others were on the rooftops watching missiles explode like fireworks. There was a sense of terror too, of course, and then a neighbor a few rooftops down yelled out a line of Rumi poetry, and other neighbors chimed in. “Even as a young child, I could feel the ecstasy of these verses in my heart, radiating to every cell of my being.”
Neuropsychology and neuroplasticity can help us train our nervous systems to remember and hold onto moments of joy and pleasant experiences. We can change our brains for the better.
Someday I plan on studying the science more deeply, but for now, I’m simply holding it close to me. As I watch my daughter’s powerful little body racing around in the woods, as I feel watermelon juice drip off of my chin while I sit on the dock, as I sip my coffee on the screened in porch in the woods… these little moments of joy are feeding my soul. I can’t help but cling to the hope that they’re part of future transformation, too. And even when I’m home in the city, I’ll be holding on tight to the small joys, and remembering that they can be both small and part of radical transformation. Thanks be to God!
Hannah Campbell Gustafson
Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin. She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church. Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy Óscar.