From the Head of Upper School: Seeking Joy

I hope this finds you well as we ride this next wave of Covid. This past week and a half has been a challenging one for our community, of which I am sure you have a sense and perhaps have felt personally as well. I want to open with gratitude for teachers and advisors who are managing their own concerns as well as those of the students in their spaces and at the same time supporting learning with flexibility and grace for students in a wide variety of circumstances. I continue to be blown away by the incredible faculty and staff at MB.

Last week, Meeting for Worship was held in advisory groups rather than in the Woodman Center as it usually is. Advisory groups held individual Meetings for Sharing guided by the following queries:

– What do I know about myself that I didn’t know before the pandemic began?

– What have I discovered about community?

– How can I make good use of what I’ve learned?

Afterwards, an advisor shared with me that his group had thought back to last year and recalled how hard hybrid learning was and how much they hoped not to return to that mode. Students in the group reflected on how they had become more resilient given the evolving challenges they have faced over the past almost two years. In the midst of a week where a lot seemed negative, students paused to reflect on–or perhaps to find–what was positive.

Over the break, I had the opportunity to read for pleasure, something I always wish I could do more. One of the books I started and continue to enjoy is Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, the 2019 collection of very short essays he wrote after challenging himself to notice and write about a delight or joy every day for a year. Gay observes that noticing joy begets noticing joy, and that you can build the habit of noticing so you see more and more over time.

In his 60th short essay, “‘Joy Is Such a Human Madness’: The Duff Between Us,” Gay reflects on the richness of the forest soil, or duff, and on the fungal hyphae that connect trees underground and help them communicate. He offers this meditation on connection:

Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things–the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this–joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and things we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming.  It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves in a body. We might call it sorry, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy.

Gay offers that one way to see joy is as connection, and connection in the face of loss. Said another way, if we hold loss together, we can find joy in the holding.

This week I have been thinking about how we practice honoring the negatives and the loss–of all shapes and scopes–that we have faced while leaning into connection, embracing growth, and seeking joy in our daily lives. Perhaps last week’s Meeting for Worship queries will be an entry point for your family in practicing this as well. What do I know about myself that I didn’t know before the pandemic began? What have I discovered about community? How can I make good use of what I’ve learned?

In the connections we cultivate may we find joy, and may we learn to see, and share, the daily joys we may habitually overlook. And–may we do this work together, in community.

Or perhaps, in the words of Ty A. in the January edition of the monthly “Dose of Happiness” newsletter that he shares with the Upper School:

Each day remember that you have the power to make a difference. When we smile towards someone else in the world, the light grows and, if we spread the kindness reflected from each person to another, the light has all the power it needs to overcome the darkness surrounding it.

Here’s to the joy-seeking and joy-spreading we will do together.

In gratitude,

Laura Twichell
Head of Upper School