The two friends gasped for air, their stomach muscles cramping from the laughter that seemed to be using them like puppets. Deborah and Alice were both 32 years old. They were camping together in the mountains for a therapeutic reunion. Friends for 12 years, they had a friendship that didn’t seem to notice that they lived hundreds of miles apart. Both needing a break from their daily grinds, they decided that some time in the woods would do them both good. Presently, they were in that mysterious state that one could call a natural high. Whether it was the high altitude, the excess of fresh air (they both lived in big cities), the lack of sleep, or the well-earned tiredness from miles of hiking, they were experiencing a phenomena of heightened experience – where everything tastes better and seems funnier than anyone else around would imagine possible. It’s actually hard to say what got them on the topic of ex-boyfriends and their similarities to junk mail, or why they still found it funny after 15 minutes of stretching the joke with their ridiculous banter. Yet, it is safe to say that they will always consecrate future memories of the moment with similar guffaws – not because of the quality of the joke, but because of the quality of the friendship in it.
Once they finally calmed down and looked more like themselves than their silly pre-pubescent twins, they both breathed that sigh that soaks in a loud moment and moves it into a silent reflective one. Laying back on the grass, faces turned upward toward the jet black canvas with innumerable flecks of luminescence, they relished the comfort of their friendship.
“I haven’t laughed like that in a long time,” commented Deborah.
“Really?” asked Alice, turning toward her friend with sincerity.
“I think I almost peed myself,” replied Deborah with comic seriousness. “So, I guess I’m thankful that doesn’t happen all the time. Plus, I think we scared some of our neighboring campers.”
At the thought of terrified faces glancing around campfires with each outburst of the laughing hyena girls, they both cracked up again. After quickly containing themselves, they fell back into their relaxed silence.
“Deborah,” Alice began. After a significant pause, she continued, “Are you happy?”
“You mean, am I still struggling with depression.”
Alice began to respond, but couldn’t think of anything worth saying to clarify when Deborah already had.
“Hmm. Well…I am happy right now. Being here in this amazing place with an amazing friend. Leaving work and other responsibilities behind for awhile. Playing outside. All of that. But, yes, I am still really struggling with depression. It’s a daily thing. Some days are better than others. Am I happy? Sometimes. Not as a rule, I guess. I have a lot of really dark days. Yet, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.”
“How do you mean?” inquired Alice.
“Well, in spite of all I just said, I’m joyful.”
“I thought you just said you have a lot of dark days. I don’t get it.”
Deborah slowly pieced together her explanation. “Well, I now see happiness as being quite different from joy. Happiness comes and goes. Joy overcomes circumstance. Joy is hope. I know that I am learning new ways of coping all the time. I know that I am not defined by depression. I know that I am protected. I know that I will keep moving on. I look forward to there being no tears someday.”
“I’ve never thought about it that way. I think I get what you are saying. But…” Alice’s voice dropped off for a moment. “I understand the happy part. I can list lots of happy memories. But, I don’t think I know the joy concept. I mean, something that sustains in me when things like happiness start getting pushed around in my psyche.”
Deborah suppressed the urge to speak and waited for Alice to process her thoughts and form any further questions of her own accord.
When Alice was ready, she asked the question, “Deborah, how did you get that joy part?”
“Well,” Deborah began, “what do you think when you hear the name Jesus?...”
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