Thursday, October 11, 2012


The study of psychology has given us a lot of talk about triggers—triggers of negative emotions that is. Triggers are memories that produce emotions. We have trauma triggers that cause people to relive terrible events, anger triggers that bring a history of events to boil together at the surface. But we also have joy triggers. Why is it that we so rarely speak of joy triggers? Joy triggers do what anger triggers and trauma triggers do. They focus attention. They change the mood. But unlike anger and trauma triggers, they change it in a good way. I have a few joy triggers. I am always grateful to myself on those occasions when I am smart enough to remember that I have them, those times when I call them up for the pleasure of having them. One is a memory made recently, this year in fact. David had been attending a conference in Virginia. He had been gone a week. I planned to join him for a vacation in Washington DC. The trip began badly. My flight was leaving late—so late that my connection in Chicago would most certainly be missed. “Settle down,” I said to my beating heart as we languished on the runway going nowhere. Then the pilot finally got the go-ahead. He took to the windy skies and raced the wind. Instead of being hours late, we arrived in Chicago only one hour late. There was a little bit of hope. My connecting flight was also late. But Chicago is a very big airport and I am a blind person. “I’m going to miss my connection,” I said to the United Airlines agent who came to help me. “Maybe not Honey,” she said. She crackled her radio. Here began an incredible journey. We sprinted the length of moving sidewalks. We boarded buses. We pushed through crowds. We vaulted up escalators. We rush through a gate. We sped down a tunnel. We greeted a steward. And then we arrived. I sat in a middle seat near the rear and the crew closed the door. I don’t think I felt joy then, only relief. The joy came sometime around midnight at Ben’s on U street. David and I sat touching fingertips across a table and shouting at one another over the din. Obama-eating-there pictures festooned the walls. It’s the memory of how it felt to be there in that moment of French fries and rock-and-roll that starts the joy flowing. A second joy trigger for me is much older. I was pregnant for the second time. The first time had unfolded as a series of joyless events that involved blood, nausea, hospitals, waiting rooms, tests and never produced a baby. The second time began like the first, with nausea and waiting rooms. Then one sunny Tuesday afternoon Dr. Boulton produced an electronic stethoscope and placed it where the baby ought to be. A moment later I could hear a train chugged, chug, chug chug. I almost expected to hear a whistle. I did hear a whistle. The doctor had whistled. “That’s your baby’s heartbeat,” he said. “This baby has a heartbeat. Things are much better this time.” Thus I was introduced to the baby of unknown gender who would soon be lovingly referred to as “Mark.” That was 1979. this 9s 2012. And still it takes only a second’s recall to bring back the joy.

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