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  • Cary Martin Shelby

A Love Letter to My Joy

Updated: Jun 9


Cary Martin Shelby finding her joy in Chicago

I used to think that you were nonexistent. Fantasies of what you could have felt like appeared in my dreams. Seeing others freely experience your freedom made me long for you even more. Sometimes I observed those bestowed with your blessings in pure wonder. Yet sometimes I observed them in a suffocating envy that made it difficult to breathe. Unlike them, being cursed by tsunamis of trauma obscured your very existence. Pervasive injustices pushed you even further away from my reach. Attempting to function within broken institutional structures just about crushed you into nothingness. Eventually, I completely gave up chasing you. My longing then turned into an all-consuming hate. My life became as empty as the bottom of a sewer.


Then you become intermittent. Unexpected sparks of you infiltrated my existence. First, I saw you when the trees shed multifaceted gems of you during every single autumn. Then, you brushed against my skin when crystals of you melted on the edge of my nose during those frigid winter months. When the summer finally hit, you completely enveloped me in your essence when I jumped into Lake Michigan at my favorite beach against the backdrop of Chicago’s magnificent skyline. When I heard you from the laughter of my children, I wept in disbelief. You even seeped into my career when my son observed just how joyful I was after teaching a large lecture hall of students.


You set my heart completely aglow when I saw that others were willing to share their own precious joy with me. Unlocked memories revealed the many times in which my loved ones fought to share their joy even when I subconsciously did not think that I was worthy. They consistently showered me with you through their love, empathy, and compassion. And my friends exposed me to the freedoms of unapologetically pursuing you in countless ways. From paying for me to go on my first vacation to the ocean, to throwing me extravagant celebrations in my honor even when I could not afford to do the same. Eventually, even the laughter of strangers became a contagious elixir.


When you became essential, I truly committed to you. I had initially settled for seeing you intermittently. Then I realized that I deserved even more of you in every facet of my life. You are essential to my well-being as I continue to embark upon the revolution of healing. Allowing you into my spirit has healed the most stubborn of wounds. I was taught to neglect you, but you are the missing fuel to my ambitions. Success is nothing but a vacuous performance without you. Given your power to shift all of humanity, you are the pivotal component to the most extraordinary of movements. Your contagion can achieve the impossible, and I am forever humbled by the jubilance of your power.


Even more importantly, I now understand that you never left my side. You have always resided within me, even when others fought to take you away. You have always resided all around me, in every pocket of the universe, even when my vision was shrouded by abuse and heartache. While others will continue attempts at taking you away, I promise to protect you with every fiber of my being. I will prioritize you even when it is frowned upon. I will be your most committed and loyal guardian as I now know the gravity of your importance. Guarding my joy will cascade into joy for everyone around me—from my children, to my family, to my friends, and to every single community within my orbit. Without fully committing to you, we will never truly be free.

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