I’ve spent too much time in front of the television lately.
I posted a while back on how my daughter and I became addicted to The Voice. A new season began a few weeks ago and I was immediately sucked in. The show strikes a perfect chord (pun intended) with its combination of terrific performers, background stories, and friendly banter among the coaches. In addition, does anyone in the world possess a more beautiful smile than Usher or Shakira? Seriously, those two should be used as instruments of mass peace. IMPs to counteract WMDs. I mean who could stay angry and hostile with Usher or Shakira smiling at them?
But, even above all that, my favorite moments on the show are seeing the families’ reactions when a coach turns around for their singer. Screams burst forth. Tears of happiness flow. Exaltation abounds when these people see the realization of a dream fulfilled for their loved one. Watching the first few shows of this season, an oft used phrase came to mind as I saw one family cavort and hug each other when that magical moment of a chair turn happened.
Then, March rolled in — though you wouldn’t know it from the weather — the month when the most overused word in our lexicon immediately becomes “bracket”. Everyone has one, is making one, or is agonizing over one. Even people who don’t follow college basketball get involved in the madness. And beyond that, you see other types of brackets pop up: brackets for the best books, pets, TV shows — the list is endless.
Beyond all the hype, however, are the games themselves. I’m not a big fan of college basketball myself, yet the drama of the tournament is compelling. The David versus Goliath match ups are intriguing to me, as a storyteller, as well as the emotional roller coasters the players, coaches, and fans ride during the games. Having coached youth soccer for many years, I can relate to many of those feelings and my heart goes out to those kids who put everything on the line, only to realize, when that final horn sounds, that their everything wasn’t enough in this particular instance. Fortunately, for every bench of disappointed and distraught players, there’s another bench at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Those who survive to play one more game — especially those who weren’t expected to in the beginning — leap and shout and hug each other in the shared happiness of their accomplishment.
And that phrase popped into my head again: unbridled joy.
These people experience it and we watch as they do, with a smile on our face and possibly a tear in our eye, and in some small way we get to experience a piece of it along with them. It’s a part of being human that we can all relate to and desire to feel ourselves again and again. It’s why sports and competition captivate us, whether we’re participants or spectators. We want to touch that unbridled joy, just one more time.
Then, the writer in me pondered the words. Unbridled joy. The negative implies a positive. Who ever speaks of bridled joy? Why would joy ever be bridled?
I thought back to some of my own experiences of joy: winning soccer teams I’d coached, a state champion Knowledge Bowl team I’d been a part of in high school, the birth of my daughter. All were occasions of happiness that I’ll never forget, yet I realized they were all examples of bridled joy. Yes, during some I whooped and hollered briefly, but then decorum and embarrassment aggressively stepped in and lassoed my emotions, bridling my joy. In some cases, this was likely a good thing. Wanton jumping and fist pumping in my daughter’s delivery room would have been frowned upon at the very least. At worst, I could have accidentally punched a doctor or nurse in the close quarters. I might have experienced a literal bridling in the form of hand cuffs or a straight jacket in that instance.
But other times … why did I restrain myself so? We all crave that feeling, yet when I upon approaching it, I backed away. Reined myself in.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that what I feared most was losing control. It’s the reason I don’t drink alcohol, the reason I drive the speed limit, the reason for many aspects of my life. I don’t regret any of those decisions, but I do regret my fear tempering the moments of pure happiness I’ve been a part of. Unlike the characters in my stories, I can’t go back in time and make changes. I can, however, make different choices in the future, so when that next moment comes to revel in a major accomplishment of my own or a loved one, I’m determined to not hold back. And I apologize in advance for any potential black eyes that may come as a result!
Unbridle your joy.