On Tuesday, on my daily government-allowed walk, I went around the park instead of towards the canal and turned a couple of wrong turns. I walked some more and stopped right in front of a church that I’d never noticed around the neighborhood before. Partly hidden by foliage, mostly drenched in the atypical April sunshine that I’ve been so grateful for these past few weeks. It stood in the middle of a tiny square, and looking all around it, I didn’t see anybody else.
I sat down on one of the benches and -unsure about where God might stand on the new Weeknd album- I removed my headphones and stared up at the rose windows.
And look, I’m not religious. Not in any real sense. It’s kind of hard to be, when you grow up in a mostly atheist family in a rigid Catholic country.
But I am not a cynic, either.
And I’m no stranger to the search for something godly.
Early last year, I went through a bad phase. There was a stretch of a few months where I spent all my lunch breaks watching Friends reruns on my phone. Completely alone, in complete silence. Every single day, I’d sit at the only cafè near my workplace, claim the corner armchair and order a sandwich with too much cheese. I’d feel sick three bites in but always finished the entire thing. I’d get home at 7 or 8pm, put my phone on airplane mode and watch some more Friends until I fell asleep with makeup still on my face and dirty dinner plates on the nightstand.
There have been many stretches like it throughout the years. Mostly short-lived ones -with the exception of The Terrible Year That Was 2017- but short-lived is not always synonymous with light. The more powerful ones kicked me in the stomach with such force, such venom, that at times I could barely breathe. I used to live in fear of them, knowing the next one couldn’t be too far away.
These days, I am more grateful than scared.
Because it is only thanks to all the bad stretches and all the lunch breaks spent trying not to cry that I now know how to spot joy when I see it. My body can’t ever forget what it feels like to always be one step removed from your own life; what it feels like when getting out of bed requires more effort than winning the lottery does luck.
The bad years were bad for a reason, and I can never get them back. But remembering means understanding, and that’s only a few steps away from resolving to do better.
Now, years later, I like to think that that is what I’m trying to do. Resolving to do better than when I didn’t have it in me to do any better. Resolving to see the light in the darkness and the joy amidst the chaos. That’s what this whole newsletter is about.
So no, I am not religious in the strict sense.
But I consider joy to be a sacred thing.
I hold it close to my chest whenever it’s within reach. I look for it whenever it’s missing. Better days are coming, I whisper with the devotion that these church steps call for. Hope is a religious thing, I sing.
Hoping against all odds is an act of devotion.
Light shining in through the cracks is a holy act of grace.
I hold both so dearly, and pray to them often. I’ll look for them today, and tomorrow, and until we can feel safe again -I’ll look for them in everything I see.