The world has such a strange concept of happiness. If someone is educated, well-paid, in a respectable profession and from a good background, surely, they should be happy, we reason. Whereas those who are disabled and need constant care should be miserable. In my experience, that isn't necessarily the case.
I work with a 60-year-old woman named Libby. Libby is non-verbal but can communicate with signs and grunts. To the world, she looks like someone who would struggle with daily tasks, but to me, she looks like an amazingly loyal friend with a giant grin, a huge laugh, and cheeky sense of humor.
Getting to know Libby over the last 2 years has really brought a lot of joy and laughter to my own heart. She is full of surprises - always giving me hugs out of the blue. Although she can't speak, her presence conveys joy and love.
It is hard to pinpoint just one story to illustrate the joy that Libby brings. Whenever I spend the day with her, her laughter echoes down the hall. She loves looking at cute animal photos, rocking back and forth to music videos in many different languages (we joke that she knows all the languages in the world!), and playing pranks when people least expect it.
But there is one day that really stands out to me. A few weeks ago, Libby and I went on a nature walk with a new local group that hosts several walks a week for veterans, those recovering from addictions, those with mental illness, and those with developmental disabilities. Libby and I attended one of the inclusion walks. As we were walking along, Libby was really in her realm. She was just laughing and pointing out all the birds and trees. She kept singing and trying to make friends with the other service users. It was the little things in life that held her captive. It was so refreshing to see, as in our day and age many of us are held captive by our cell phones. In an age of instant gratification, it is so easy to take selfies instead of actually being present and in the moment. Libby's mood that day was infectious and touched all who were there.
Finding joy in the Advent season can be difficult. As Christmas approaches, many of us become too preoccupied with commercialism, decorating, hosting, and gift buying. It can be a stressful time for those who are going through loss, financial difficulties, who are far away from family and friends or who struggle with health issues or depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder.
What Libby has taught me is that it's more important to be present in the moment then to worry about the future. There is a way to find joy even amidst the busyness and chaos of the Christmas season. It could be something as simply as grabbing a steaming mug of hot cocoa and settling down with a good book or Christmas film, it could be playing outside in the snow with kids or grandkids, or it could be simply lighting a candle and praying for those near and dear. Whatever grounds you and whatever brings that sense of peace, calm and joy into your life whether for a fleeting minute or for an hour, is a timely reminder during this season. Just like Libby, we can go against the societal pressure to look good on the outside and focus on being good on the inside. And just like Libby, we can welcome the Christ child in, not with words, but with our hearts.
Deborah Ferber has worked as a live-in assistant for people with developmental disabilities in several L’Arche communities in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the United Kingdom. She is passionate about building friendships with people with developmental disabilities and supporting people living with mental illness. Deborah serves as a field associate for ADN is a frequent contributor to our Opening Doors blog.