In the autumn I gathered all my sorrows and buried them in my garden. And when April returned and spring came to wed the earth, there grew in my garden beautiful flowers unlike all other flowers. And my neighbours came to behold them, and they all said to me, ‘When autumn comes again, at seeding time, will you not give us the seeds of these flowers that we may have them in our garden?’
- Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam
On the eve of the 25th of October I left my small studio apartment in Montréal’s Plateau to meet up with an old friend of mine, Andrew. We were to meet at N bar, a small local cocktail bar which I had frequented since moving to Montréal a year before. Andrew was staying at a hotel in the area and bar provided a convenient and cozy place to meet and catch up. I was excited with the anticipation of conversing with a friend I had not seen in a few years, but was also filled with the anxiousness that the passage of time creates. He arrived before me. We embraced and entered into the bar. As we sat down, I ordered a pint of beer and Andrew got himself a coffee. A month or so earlier Andrew had asked me to write a blogpost to put up on the website of his company the Joyful Project. In that month or so I had been wholly unsatisfied with every attempt to put my thoughts into words and so saw this meeting as a chance opportunity to gain some direction. I began with a question: “So, why did you call your company the Joyful Project? What is this project described as joyful?”
What is in a name? One is given a name from someone else. Our names were not our choice but our birthright, a gift given and a responsibility bequeathed. For the one who names does not know what will become of the person named. Only in living life, in becoming, does the person named become that which they are. Our name remains as a reminder, a reminder of a gift, of having to take up anew the responsibility that was bequeathed to us from another. It is that which we are and that to which we must continually return. Adam, man of dirt: dust unto dust. “Look at the book of Genesis, there it says that God brought order to the chaos,” Andrew said to me that night. Chaos and creation, death and life: “Life is a project.”
A project is something one works at. It denotes both the end that is striven towards and the work needed to get there. A project has plans and aspirations. With our projects we hope to erect something, to build something, something that lasts, that endures. But to work on something also means that it takes time to complete. Drawing from the past we project into the future an end towards which we strive. Thus, when we speak of projects we announce both our fated temporality and our tragic resistance to it: “My name is Ozymandias, look upon my works ye mighty and despair.”
That night I asked Andrew about how he came up with the name. When and where did it come from? Andrew took me back to the summer of 2016, a summer filled with hot dry days that led to largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history and would end up being the costliest disaster in Canadian history. He was among the 88,000+ residents who were evacuated. From the fires that burned and the sorrow and loneliness that it entailed, the Joyful Project emerged like a seed from the pinecone of a lodgepole pine. The light of the deadly fires had put into full relief a revelation, one that often comes only in the wake of sorrow and pain: the difference between happiness and joy. “Joy does not equal happiness, but is related to hope,” Andrew said as he slowly sipped his warm coffee. Joy is the hope of life. Life is the joyful project. As I sat there listening and sipping my beer Andrew recalled Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” Life is filled times in which we rejoice and times in which we mourn. Both are a part of life, both operate within the joyful project. The Joyful Project aims to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. We long to not let our miserableness waste our misery. There is always room for one more, always room for people to participate. People are free to come join in our project and they are free to leave. The Joyful Project is a name that identifies a struggle to be purposefully joyful with our aspirations while acknowledging that joy is not the opposite sorrow for in both we may find truth.