There's something not a lot of people know about me and that's about to change. Wait for it. Wait for it. Ok. I adore guinea pigs.
My love for them began in first grade when our teacher let us hold Cuddles. Five minutes into cradling Cuddles and I was besotted. Maybe it was her little pink flappy ears and tiny pink nostrils that made her so endearing or the small twitch of her whiskers and the way she fit right under my neck. Or maybe it was the whole darn package because, I mean, have you seen guinea pigs? Adorable. And my love for them is so strong I can even get past the fact that they eat their own poop, which I happened to witness a few weeks ago when one of my piggies, Sebastian was chowing down on his.
Dry heaving aside, I'm sharing this because finding what brings you joy is such an important part of being fully alive. It's what helps us fall in love with life a little more each day. And sometimes, at first, reclaiming that joy feels foolish or childish. Or at least that's how others tried to make me feel when I started adopting piggies at the age of 37. You'd be surprised how many people are biased about being a guinea pig parent. I had to cover Sebastian's ears when a friend asked me why I wanted a "starter pet" and then (gasp) accidentally called him a hamster. But, that's a story for another day.
The lesson I've learned over the years is two fold. One is that joy has no age limit. And the other is that experiencing joy requires practice—especially when life has handed you more than you could bear. Much like learning how to walk again, allowing yourself to feel truly joyful means letting it in a little bit at a time. After a while, joy becomes a language you're fluent in it and something you can embrace fully. For me, snuggling with Sebastian or Gus (my first piggie) helped to reawaken parts of me I thought were lost from childhood. They were the ABCs of joy I'd thought I'd forgotten all those years ago. And yet, it's amazing what unlocking just a smidge of joy can do. Not only does it come back quickly, it multiplies and often miraculously helps you heal the places that still ache.
Over the years, the language of joy has become easier for me to speak. I've been able to shed the fear that used to automatically accompany joy and I'm less worried about if it will go away (a normal reaction for those us affected by trauma). Now, it's about letting joy in and knowing it can come and go without needing to grab onto it. And one of the baby steps that helped me get here was, and is, about allowing myself the freedom of loving guinea pigs. It's also about returning to the girl who loved to sing, dance, act, jump in puddles, crunch leaves in the fall and laugh for no apparent reason. And all it took was one adorable guinea pig. :)
Sending love and joy to you.
For my guinea pig enthusiasts reading this, PLEASE send pics. There's never enough cuteness!