Wednesday, February 13, 2013
All This Joy I Have Found
"The only cure for sadness is happiness," says one of the young widows in Becky Aikman's memoir Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives.
Five summers after my sister and brother died, I lay on a fallen tree in the sun beside a cold Colorado stream. The tree's bark had fallen away and the wood was smooth and sun-warmed under my back. I was sixteen years old, traveling with a group of Girl Scouts from around the country, new friends on a four day back-packing trip. We had stopped to snack and rest after a morning of heavy hiking. The stream ran through a shallow valley in the woods. With the blue sky overhead and the heavy tree-shade all around us, it felt like we were at the bottom of a peaceful bowl. We took off our heavy boots to soak our tired feet in the icy water and took off our shirts to bathe in the sun. We laughed at our daring to lounge around in bras and shorts, but we hadn't seen another group of hikers since a pair of trail workers with their pack llama surprised us yesterday morning.
I lay in the sun, in the quiet and the heat, the endorphins flowing from the miles we had covered and I recognized a new but familiar feeling. It was a special kind of quiet ecstasy that I noticed only a couple of times before this. Once, next to a Pizza Hut, of all places, late afternoon, in the early spring, when a warm buffeting wind and warm smells and the setting sun and purple shadows across a field filled my heart. And once next to my friend Tamar as we watched the film Christ Stopped At Eboli, during a long traveling shot of bare trees against a white winter sky.
I knew losing myself in laughter with friends, I knew the thrill of being in the spotlight and winning awards. This was different: singular, interior, fleeting but unforgettable.
I had used the word Epiphany only as a Catholic "feast" day (the church I grew up with seemed to have a pretty skimpy sense of feast); only later, when I was out of my teens, would I come across the Joycean use of the word - as in a moment of spiritual enlightenment - and adopt it to describe imperfectly these special moments when my senses were heightened by the gorgeousness of the moment and everything was right and joy came to me as intense as pain.
There was no sense of how far I had come that summer day with the Girl Scouts. I didn't think about a journey from dark grief and loss; I didn't dwell on the work of recovering the strength in my leg. I did not think that way then. There was only the Now and the anguish of five years prior was an eternity away.
Since becoming a parent, those shots of intense joy I found here and there in my adolescence have become a daily dose of contentment and abundance. Today Mia pulled me aside after school to show me the chocolate rose a boy gave her. I listened to the girls making music on the violin and piano. We bought Valentine balloons and a leprechaun costume. It's a different ecstasy, this grown-up happiness. It knows the loss, acutely. The loss lives inside. And yet it goes on. Even when the longing overcomes me, my heart's default is joy.
"All this joy, all this sorrow, so much promise, so much pain/Such is life, such is being, such is spirit, such is love" says the singer from Colorado.
You can read more responses to Aikman's book at From Left to Write. The bloggers received a copy of the book with no obligation.