Today, to raise money for The New York Immigrant Fund’s Let My People Go campaign, I offered to write at least 200 words for whoever gave at least 18 dollars, on the topic of their choice. The offer is still standing, and I’m still writing, but here is the second piece I wrote, on the topic of “Joy”
The great gift of depression is empathy. When you tell people that you are or have been depressed, they search through their recent lives, and some even dive into their past, to tell you their own woes, to say, “I too, know sadness.” While the selfishness of the disease itself inures and numbs one to these sad stories, eventually, as recovery begins, and the nerves tingle to life, they all come flooding in, the weight of the world, all the misery that you yourself have been seeking out and focusing on. All this to say: there have been moments when joy has been hard to come by. But as recovery continues, and you push through to the other side, those moments make it so that joy always feels hard won and precious.
I’m not much of a dancer. This causes conflict with Atenea, my wife, who, as a Mexican, literally doesn’t understand how the citizens of United States spend their physical education classes if they don’t spend them dancing. Atenea insists I dance with her, despite my explanation that Jews only dance in great numbers, that the splendor of Jewish dance is dozens, if not hundreds of Jews circling each other in a solemn shuffle. Atenea moves with a hip-shaking, sinuous ease that I would find incredibly erotic, if I wasn’t cursing at my feet for not being able to pick themselves up and move with her.
One day, at about 11 o’clock at night after a day of helping a friend move, I was allowing my muscles to cool, when Atenea began crying. This was alarming, but not unusual. My wife has a huge and stubbornly tender heart, and she remains open to the possibility of crying at least once a week, if not more frequently. I asked her what was wrong. “Celso Piña died!” she wailed. “Oh no!” I said. Then, after a moments hesitation, I asked, “who’s Celso Piña?”
In response, Atenea, after staring agape at me in horror for a few minutes, and repeating his name, to no change in bewildered affect from me, put on a song of Celso Piña, the master of Cumbia. Then she got up, and began dancing. Then she put out her hands to me, as the tears dried on her face, and her hips moved.
I groaned. “Atenea, please.” I had been on my feet all day, sometimes lifting quite heavy things. “Mo!” she said sternly, bobbing her head to the rhythm. “Atenea, please,” I said quietly. It was so late. She did a turn, then gave me a fierce look. “Mo, he died. He’s dead, Mo. Today.” I stood up, and we danced three songs before I could lie down and go to sleep. My body ached, and I had stubbed my toe. It was the happiest night of my life.