Hoping for Joy

BY AMY MROTEK

Highlighting the link between intention and action, every year the College selects a theme, a topical direction for yearlong lectures, guest speakers and tailored events. It’s a way of establishing campus continuity, a guiding subject for prolonged reflection and conversation between backpack-slinging students and faculty alike.

This year’s theme? You need only tilt your head and scan the green-and-gold banners strung across any campus lamppost the next time you shuffle your way to class.

 Joy and Hope. Two simple yet emotive words gilded in rosy-hued connotations. Yet just typing joy and hope into the search bar on the college’s own website will unearth a much deeper meaning sphere, a pervasive duality that peels away at both the phrase’s Vatican II doctrine and more importantly, its day to day, secular ripples. Openly put, the theme aims to “explore realities of grief and injustice while celebrating our shared joy in faith and life as we strive together in hope for the common good.”

In between blinks, there’s something intuitively appealing in this breakdown. Across the sticky, messy, topsy-turvy jungle gym that is the human condition, on metaphorical slides slicked with rain and chain-link swings that screech the harder you pump, there’s this acknowledgement that you simply can’t have the good—joy, hope, laughter, bliss—without their angular opposites—pain, guilt, remorse and suffering.

It essentially states that these feelings of joy and hope can’t exist in isolation. Rather, they’re a series of monkey bars we traverse to and from, one end building toward the other, as we try our best to hang on with clenched fingertips. And while you don’t necessarily need intense pain and suffering to make shades of happiness pop, you also can’t ignore the heightened awareness and empathy of the “good” that’s cultivated when you’ve been bruised by the “bad.”

Yet there’s a plot twist that beats alive and well within this framework of joy and hope, and it’s one extending beyond any secular or religious front, resting more in the individual’s reality than on any lecture podium: Can one really be the bearer of equal parts joy and hope? Can both those principles translate to measurable action? Or do they, on some ideologically tiptoeing, backdoor level, actually work against one another?

From experience, hope tends to bud like a bed of dandelions. That is, it’s a nice, pretty little weed that doesn’t mean much until left untended, when suddenly it takes over my mental garden, a yellow cluttering of anticipative expectations distracting in more than one unhealthy way. It’s hope that sits in the corner of your gut and keeps you mentally crossing your fingers. It’s hope that keeps you up at night, playing projected scenes in the movie theater nestled beneath your eyelids. And it’s hope that leaves you sighing when those projections don’t see the light of day–until tomorrow, that is. Maybe.

Now what does that leave for joy? If hope muddles the mind to the point of expectation oblivion, then are we not robbing space from believing in the here and now, from curating positivity rooted in the real?

These are words and concepts that take sifting. Again, hope and joy need to tango with grief and injustice in order to amplify their resolve, but if that hope lives under the same roof as never-ending projective desire, and if that joy breathes only in the aftermath of desire’s external fulfillment, then do they not conceptually cancel each other out? Are we not setting ourselves up for wishful failure? The formulaic jury shrugs her shoulders in overwhelmed dismissal.

Whether approached from a theological or secular point, joy and hope are still noble intents. It’s just their interplay that warrants pause. What kind of hope do we need to fuel constructive change in the world, and what form of joy can we highlight for the whole?

In simpler terms, is hope in itself always useful? And is joy really a tangible, objective outcome? These are questions it may take more than one campus to answer—though we should hope to try, nonetheless.

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