Finding the Joy

I’m at that point in my life in which I can better discern what is meant to be truly memorable – what is meant to reverberate within the walls of my mind. There are the kinds of moments that catch my memory like a bear trap. They suffocate my concentration in a straight jacket of negativity. But these attachments will only achieve permanence if I let them.

At age 21, I finally understand the agency I have over my own mind, and over my perception of self and life. Despite anxiety and hardship, insecurities and self-consciousness, I am the endpoint of my own happiness. It is a huge responsibility, but a blessing none the less. My life is what I make of it, not what others make of it. Finding joy in life is certainly not the easiest of our tasks as humans. I find that we are more often reminded of all the injustice and deep sadness permeating the world, than of the goodness in humanity.

However, I truly believe this negativity can only be overcome when we maintain a consciousness of joy. If we do not appreciate life as a wonderful sphere of possibility, too much good goes undone. Across the board, we need to realize that love, joy, and happiness can rejuvenate anywhere in which there is negativity, sadness, or depression.

I am reminded of the Prayer of St. Francis. I have a laminated copy of the prayer printed on red paper that my elementary school was given on September 12, 2001 the student body gathered hand-in-hand for prayer after the 9/11 attacks. st_francis_prayer_600X888Furthermore, a song we sang frequently in my high school choir, Extreme Faith, at Corpus Christi Church offers more enlightenment on this transformation from negativity to positivity.

“Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me bring Your love,
Where there is injury, Your pardon Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in You.
Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope,
Where there is darkness – only light,
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.
Oh Master, grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
In giving to all men that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.”
So my personal goal this year, and for the rest that follow, is to replace negativity with positivity and despair with joy and hope, especially when I need to do so within myself.
This past Saturday, I did something I later described “Freshman Katie” would never have dared to do. I ran the “Happiest 5K on the Planet” with a cohort of some of my best friends. Yes, I ran “The Color Run,” and thankfully I crossed the finish line, and surprisingly didn’t pass out. Now when I say I ran it I mean I ran it, I power walked it, I leaped through it, and even danced through it. I didn’t sign up for the event because I wanted a good work out or because I needed to cross of an item from my bucket list – I signed up to do something ridiculously amazing with my friends. I call it my new, “Do it for the moment that will be a happy, exhilarating memory” – and, boy, was it that!
Throughout “The Color Run,” you are splattered with powdered color – like a human Jackson Pollock painting. At each kilometer, race volunteers threw so much color at you that you found yourself running through a kaleidoscope cloud. For a few seconds it was hard to breathe with all the color whooshing down my windpipe, but for the most part it was a chaotic frenzy of joy. I was truly living in that moment, and that moment only. Talk about a stress reliever.
color run jump
I didn’t care that I was breathing at 65% normal capacity because of the color being thrown at me, I didn’t care that I had the worst running cramp of my life, and I didn’t care that I was obviously out of shape (well, I did care but I wasn’t torn up about it). All that mattered to me throughout the event was that I was doing something wild and crazy with my friends. We were sharing in the joy together. How often do you get to run and dance around for an extended period of time with your friends, without worry of homework, responsibilities, or even how you look? Not that often. I was lucky.
This Saturday I had another “click” moment in which I realized how lucky I am that life presents me with moments such as these and has brought me friends who share in this happiness. I may still have some color stuck to my skin and I may be a tad bit behind in my reading assignments, but it’s a small price to pay for a memory as vivid (literally) and joyous as this one.Overall I learned, these legs weren’t made for running, but I certainly do have the most amazing friends and life is pretty great right now.
color run hands
It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to recall the past and understand how you have changed. Being okay with these changes is a sign of maturity.

The most frequently piece of advice I’ve heard in my life has been, “Go with the flow, it will all be okay.” I used to hate this phrase. It always felt it was an avoidance of giving truly applicable advice. However, I now understand how smart and useful this advice is. On Saturday, I went with the flow. I didn’t worry about anything. I just ran, screamed, danced and enjoyed sharing this magical experience with my friends. If you go with the flow, if you truly live in the moment and not in your anxieties or regrets, you can find happiness for yourself. This is where self-agency comes into the matter.
go with the flow
Getting hung up on the negativity stops your life in a way that prevents you from attaining happiness. I believe happiness is found when you keep moving. When you keep moving you learn how to trek through the mud of life and by as a result you become stronger in mind, spirit, and body. The forest of life is uncharted and dimly lit, but if you keep exploring and venturing through it you’ll find it grants more rewards than it does harm. You might run into a few thorns on your journey, but their little claws aren’t strong enough to keep you bound, so don’t let them. So I’m going to keep adventuring through this forest of life, because above it all will always be the sun, and with that sunlight there is always the possibility of happiness.
I came across this quote recently and it’s one of the truest sentences I have ever read. “The struggle is part of the story.” This story is life, and it’s a roller coaster of emotion – uncertainties and euphoria. However, with ever low comes a high. So just “go with the flow,” because in the end it all balances out.
On another note, my nephew Grayden turned 6 years old today. Since we don’t live in the same state at the moment, I wasn’t able to partake in the little gentleman’s birthday festivities. However, I got to Facetime with him this afternoon and he showed me some of his birthday presents. This is this kind of moment I like to fold up in my mind for safekeeping. This is a moment worth getting “stuck on” – a memory that brings all the smiles.
It’s amazing how quickly the years have started to pass. Grayden is already 6, his brother Gavin will be 3 in November, and his baby sister Scarlet just passed her 3 month birthday last week. Family is sweet. Life is sweet. Good things come when you let life move. Just be sure to move with it – don’t let it pass you by. Be present, be active, and enjoy every moment.
The advice I can safely give at my treacherous age of 21 is: identify those moments, those memories, in your life that brought you the greatest joy – the biggest smile – and preserve them forever.  Let them energize you every morning, and not only remind you of all the good that has happened to you, but also of all the good that can and will happen to you. Let it define your perspective as one of hope and positivity. We have to listen to our thoughts at all times, so we might as well think good ones. Remember the only person you can’t block out is yourself. So be kind to yourself and choose happiness when you have the chance.

Following My Headlights

In my “American Renaissance” English class this afternoon I had the privilege of discussing Henry David Thoreau and his essay, “Resistance to Civil Government,” with some of the brightest thinkers in my English major at Notre Dame.  In the midst of Thoreau’s argument for civil disobedience, we discovered a strong opposition to complacency.  This resistance to simply going through the motions of life is still ringing in my ears hours later.

It brought me back to my high school days of driving to school and blasting the radio.  Four years later, this song pops in my head.

“I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking/ What if I had given everything/ Instead of going through the motions?” – from The Motions by Matthew West.
I don’t want to just go through the motions of completing senior year, finding a post-grad job, and moving on with life.  I want to be active in every moment of this fantastic, whirlwind journey.  I want to be present in every moment.
Senior year is a big deal.  I’ll admit, it still hasn’t really hit me, and I’m currently blaming that on my 5’2″ stature which allows me to still pass as a high school sophomore.  It’s completion might signify the end of college – for me, the end of an amazing experience at the University of Notre Dame – but it certainly marks a beginning much bigger than I could have ever imagined.
I still haven’t sorted out post-grad plans yet, and for some people that might feel scary but I’m oddly calm.  I think it’s because I know I have so many options for the trajectory of my career and my life.  What I do in the year immediately following my graduation from Notre Dame in May is ultimately just a small chunk of my life.  It’s a starting point, not a determining point.
Every stop in life is a transition to the next.  I’m only a little frightened by post-grad because I’m more excited about all the possibilities it can offer me.  Will I teach? Will I write? Will I work in media? Will be a curator? Will I start my own business? Answer: I have absolutely no idea, but I know all options are possible and that’s what calms me.
Some of my Notre Dame classmates know exactly what they want to do next year – they have the whole job description memorized.  For them, that’s reassuring, for me that’s terrifying.  I still have a whole lot of months of college left to finish figuring myself out.  I’m not procrastinating, I’m just working on myself.
Not committing doesn’t mean I’m indecisive.  That’s a life lesson I’ve learned this semester – I need to stop labeling myself as “indecisive.” It’s an escapist term – an excuse which lets you be okay with not knowing yourself.  It’s not that I can’t decide what I want to do next year, it’s more that I’m notready to decide.  I need to be sure that what I choose to do post-grad is good for 20-something year old Katie, instead of for 40 year old Katie (gasp!).  It’s good to plan ahead, but remember your headlights can only guide you for so far.
Speaking of headlights, as a writer I’ve always loved this quote on writing by E. L. Doctorow:

“It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I’d argue this is pretty applicable to life in general.  If we get too caught up in the future – in the unknown darkness of what is yet to be – we lose sight of what is well lit in front of us, in the present time.
Today is October 1st, 2013, the second anniversary of my Papa’s (Dr. Carl J. Troia, M.D.) death.  His passing remains the greatest tragedy I have ever experienced.  Papa loved Notre Dame.  He essentially forced my uncle to go here – I don’t know how he had to be coerced – so when I sent in my commitment letter in to Our Lady’s University, Papa was thrilled. He told me he knew I’d be great, that it would be a good fit for me.  He was right, he is right.  There’s something truly special about a loved one supporting you unconditionally – without specified expectations.  It’s in my Papa’s unwavering and eternal support that I find solace in my post-grad discernment.
On July 5, 2011, I left my grandparents’ house in Omaha, NE after a 1-month stay with my Nana and Papa.  Papa and I said our goodbyes and said we’d see each other in October, on my fall break.  I’ll always be waiting for one more hug.  But until then, I know Papa (my beloved guardian angel) will be helping me adjust my headlights so that I never lose sight of my personal worth and my abilities.
I love you Papa, we all miss you. Today, tomorrow, and forever.