Joy, and Sponge Bob
By Christine Gunderson
I spent the last two weekends attending six back-to-back performances of a children’s theatre production of Sponge Bob: The Musical. My daughter was a sardine, and I was very proud.
Ironically, I did not allow my children to watch Sponge Bob when they were little, so I was unfamiliar with the finer point of Sponge Bob’s life as a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea in a tight knit community called Bikini Bottom.
For these reasons I was not necessarily looking forward to six performances of Sponge Bob: The Musical, even though the actors, ranging from elementary and middle school to high school were jaw droppingly talented. I would not be excited to sit through six performances of Hamilton either. One is usually enough.
But as I sat there in a dark auditorium during the show’s big finale, I witnessed something you don’t see every day.
I witnessed out and out, absolute, unadulterated, joy.
These are talented kids with amazing voices. Like my daughter, they love to sing, and this love came shining through at the end of every show. I witnessed the release of pent-up energy, the relief at having pulled off an almost flawless performance, and joy of using a God given talent to bring pleasure to others.
Joy was the real star of the show, and it turned those six performances into a gift, and an actual pleasure, rather than a duty.
Sitting there in the dark auditorium watching these radiant kids, I realized how seldom I’ve felt this kind of joy lately as an adult. I lost my dad in September, and grief feels like slogging through mud while wearing a blanket made of stone. Heavy. Slow. Burdened.
And even without grief, joy can be elusive as an adult. We settle for contentment, or comfort, or at-least-nothing-bad-is-happening-right-now. But actual joy? Let’s face it. Responsible adulthood is where joy goes to die.
Joy is ground into dust under the tires during endless rounds of driving or commuting, it shrivels and dies every time someone asks you “what’s for dinner,” and you realize the answer is nothing, unless you make it. It dies under jobs and insurance deductibles, paying taxes and cleaning gutters, lawn care and dentist appointments. None of these things are tragic. None of these things are being without food and water in Ukraine while the Russians bomb you. But they are the million tiny holes that leak joy from life.
So, this is what I was thinking about as I sat there in the dark, listening as sea creatures sang surprisingly poignant ballad called, “I’m Not a Loser.” Those kids on stage helped me identify the problem. And at the end of the show, they always provided the answer.
Do something you love. Use your gifts to bring other people joy. To keep joy, you must use it, or give it away.
I’ve been doing neither. I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been busy, and grief has made me tired. Too tired to rise early and get my words in. I’m not creating joy for myself, so I’m incapable of sharing it with others.
I’d like to change that. Hopefully I can, thanks to a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.
Christine Gunderson is writer who lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, children, and Star the Wonder dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. You can reach her at www.christinegunderson.com