Where do you find joy, when so much right now seems joyless? The news, and the traffic, and stresses of modern life, together with all of our fears about global warming and warring factions and humanity’s willful cruelties conspire to rob us of joy. We could turn off the news and stick our heads in the sand, but ignorance doesn’t bring joy. We could shut down conversations and proclaim that the other side is wrong, but disconnecting from relationships doesn’t bring joy. We could sweep unpleasantness under the rug and hope no one notices the lumps, but evading truth doesn’t bring joy. So where do we find joy?

A few years ago I came across a story about a 110 year old Holocaust survivor and pianist, Alice Herz-Sommer, who died in 2014, just a few days before a short film about her, The Lady in No. 6, won an Academy Award.  In accepting the Oscar, the film’s director, Malcolm Clarke, said that he was struck by Herz-Sommer’s “extraordinary capacity for joy” and “amazing capacity for forgiveness.”

In the midst of an insanity that would cause most of us to lose hope – a family torn apart, a husband sent to Dachau, she and her son to Theresienstadt – she found joy in music.  “Beethoven is my religion” she said.  “He gives me faith to live and to say to me: Life is wonderful and worthwhile, even when it is difficult.”  She credited Chopin with keeping her alive in the camp, as she pulled upon the reserve of strength which Chopin’s etudes had built within her.

Alice had every reason to lose hope, and instead found every reason to hold onto it.  If her choice to find beauty and joy in a harsh world seems naïve, does feeling damaged, angry or vengeful seem like a better choice?

“It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” Simple words from a Jewish Holocaust survivor, so very reminiscent of another Jew, as recorded in the Gospel according to Mark.

“Music is God,” Alice tells us in the film. What is beautiful is of God. She believed in the power of music, and believed that being joyful is a choice which any of us can make. At her darkest hour, she chose to look for beauty, and in finding it where she could, hope was possible.

Where there is hope there can be joy. Leonard Cohen reminded us that “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I doubt that Alice was blind to the horror around her, and if we are living in times which seem to encourage ignorance, disconnectedness, and evasion of responsibility and truth, look for those cracks where the light gets in and just maybe that is where your joy can be found.


2014 Oscar winning short documentary

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

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4 thoughts on “Joy

  1. Alice reminds me of a former student of mine at The Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia. She was a very talented artist and a retired pediatric surgeon. Toward the end of the Fall term, she invited the class to her home for a holiday party. It was there that I learned of her illness from her husband. Later, I told her how wonderful it was that she took it upon herself to host a party for 24 people given her condition. Her response changed me forever. She said that she has always believed in creating “intentional joy”. She was unwilling to let joy occur just by chance. Joy was for her, and for all of us, a tonic, a cure, a reaffirmation, a blessing. So, why not intentionally create joy, even in the bleakest of times…especially in the dark times? Thank you Sonya for your infectious joy!


    1. and thank you for sharing that story. I think the phrase “intentional joy” will stay with me for a long time, and I suspect you have done your share of intentional joy creation. As Alice said, it’s a choice.


  2. Music was the best part about St. Albans when you were there. For me it has been a source of strength…and yes joy…my whole life. Beethoven’s last quartets carried me through many rough times.. Live your blog.


  3. Thank you Elinor. It’s wonderful to hear from you, and to know that you too connect to God through music. As for your last line, you may have meant “love your blog,” which is kind. But if you meant “live your blog,” then yes, I do feel that I am doing just that! Warmest wishes to you.


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