The television show “Castle” involves a mystery writer (Richard Castle) who helps a New York City homicide detective (Kate Beckett) solve tough cases. Beckett decided to become a police officer after her mother, a community activist, was murdered and the case was never solved.
In one episode, Castle notices that Beckett keeps a stick figure in the top drawer of her desk at the precinct. It’s odd-looking. The sticks that form the limbs don’t match exactly. The head looks like one of those football-shaped coin purses. It’s all held together by what appears to be seaweed and twine.
Castle wants to know the story behind it.
Beckett tells how on the day of her mother’s funeral, she was really sad so her father took her to Coney Island, one of her favorite places. They walked along the beach in their funeral clothes for a long time. It became a special time for the two of them.
At one point, they decided to gather items that had washed up on the beach and they made the stick figure.
So, why does she keep it in her drawer?
“He’s a reminder,“ Beckett says, “that even on the worst days, there is a possibility for joy.“
I really like Beckett’s stick figure. It’s a good starting point for a discussion about what joy really is.
Why even think about it? Well, maybe because if we’re going to have joy, we need to know what it is and how we get it.
Perhaps it’s not what we think.
Beckett’s stick figure suggests that joy isn’t so much a feeling as it is a decision. We choose to create joy, just as she and her father chose to make the stick figure.
Maybe joy is about seeing the debris that washes into our lives at any given moment and choosing to make something of it. Doing it because it brings us and others a little joy.
I used to think of joy as that soaring feeling we get when something important turns out well. When things seem to fall precisely into place. When you feel really happy. When life is going the way you want it to. That’s a great feeling, and we wish we could hold onto it for a long time.
But like any feeling, it comes and goes. Soon enough, something else happens that brings us back down to earth. And the feeling can quickly evaporate.
We get tangled in the everydayness of life. The disappointments. The uncertainties. The sameness. The times when we’re awash in sadness or confusion or pain. A dream is denied. A relationship is changed. A tumor appears. Someone dies.
What do we do now?
Joy can seem totally lost in those moments.
Well-meaning people might try to help us through those moments by telling us to cheer up. Look on the bright side. You’ll feel better some day. Count your blessings. Don’t be so down.
That’s not what we need.
What we really need is for someone to listen to us, to attempt to understand us, and to choose to feel our pain with us so that we‘re not alone in it. And then to invite us to take their hand and walk along the beach for a while. To see what’s washed up on the sand and create something from whatever is at hand.
Maybe that, in essence, is joy.
It’s not about trying to feel happy every moment. It’s about making something out of whatever the moment presents. Even if we have a broken heart. Even if we’re still wearing our funeral clothes.
We do it because we love. And love and joy are interconnected.
Beckett’s figure may be tied together by twine, but those stick limbs and that oval head are actually held together by love — their love for each other. Making the stick figure didn’t make all of their hurt go away, but it helped them get through it. And that was enough for that one day.
In some ways, we are all stick figures. Twigs and twine, all bound together by love. A love that suggests — no, insists — that there is always a possibility for joy.
Because love won’t have it any other way.