It began with an UPWORDS® game. Carole thought of the word, “alloy.” That led her to a question about a song using that word. Of course I remembered—we used to sing it. I just couldn’t remember the words or the melody. Almost! Right on the tip of my brain, but when I tried to sing it—not even close! The song we were thinking about is
“I’ve Discovered the Way of Gladness.”
I’ve discovered the way of gladness,
I’ve discovered the way of joy
I’ve discovered relief from sadness
‘Tis a happiness without alloy;
I’ve discovered the fount of blessings,
I’ve discovered the “Living Word”
Twas the greatest of all discoveries,
When I found Jesus my Lord.
I haven’t sung the song in many years and haven’t used the words alloy or unalloyed in as many. Those words are not in my daily vocabulary.
I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s latest book Daring Greatly. (Penguin 2012). Before the turkey came out of the fridge Thanksgiving a.m., I was spiritually awakened by Ms. Brown’s words.
“…having spent several years studying what it means to feel joyful, I’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel. Why? Because when we lose the ability or willingness to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding. This shift from our younger self’s greeting with joy with unalloyed delight happens slowly and outside of our awareness. We don’t seem to even know that it’s happening or why. We just know that we crave more joy in our lives, that we are joy starved.” (pages 117-118 emphasis mine.)
Ms. Brown says joy is a threat, so we allow what she calls “foreboding joy.” Joy is allowed as long as it is alloyed. “Alloyed” means to mix in an inferior metal. The habit is to use foreboding joy (alloyed—not pure joy) as armor against hurt. Her self-descriptions:
- … “my constant disaster planning.”
- … “try to control all of the outcomes.”
- … “rehearsing tragedy.”
- … “practicing perpetual disappointment.”
“We wake up in the morning and think, Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good. Oh crap. This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking right around the corner.” (page 118)
So, what is this, “happiness without alloy”?
On the way to Asheville, N. C. there is a hill that is so long the village at the bottom looks like a miniature Swiss town in a Christmas display. In my imagination, that Interstate is always covered with ice—even mid-August, therefore…. On I-65 south of Nashville or on I-55 south of St. Louis, there is a long downward grade. I don’t think there are warning signs announcing “% down grade.” But I keep my foot on the brake or poised to slam onto the pedal. Have you seen those “Truck runaway ramp ahead” signs?
One of the first times I drove that long, downward slope, a voice in me said, “Just let it roll.”
The holiday season is filled with “runaway warning” signs. Some of us are incapable of experiencing unalloyed joy or happiness due to the probability that something dreadful is about to happen and we are singularly responsible for thinking through every possible contingency. So we keep our foot on the brake.
What would happen if you let it roll? Joy without alloy—not diluted with imagined, anticipated catastrophe.
©2014 D. Dean Benton
Writer, Wonderer, Provoker