When Joy and Sorrow Mix

31 Dec

As a child, I foolishly thought that bad things and good things happened but they were kept separate, never co-mingling, like two peanuts still in their sturdy shells. Or positive and negative charges destined to repel each other.  Or vinegar and oil, dancing together in the pan without ever mixing.

But the end of 2011 showed me that joy and sorrow mix, often in the same moment, nearly in the same breath.

Walking to work, an hour before dawn, excited to spend the morning talking to my coworkers, greeting them as they began their work day, hoping to genuinely bless each of them.  And then, witnessing a suicide.  Chaos, confusion, do we call 911, did we see what we thought we saw, suddenly the early morning haze seemed ominous and stifling and evil.

Running my first official marathon, going to get a medal at the end (unlike my 6 ultra marathons).   The months of training are done.  I find myself needing distraction, anything to keep from thinking about my fractured foot and how tired I am becoming and how many miles there are to go. So I pray for my friends and their little baby – running her own marathon – struggling against the odds to live, and every day a miracle, and there are many more days behind her than anyone ever hoped for (but never, ever, enough).  Eventually, much longer than I think it should have taken, I cross the finish line.  And I feel no sense of accomplishment, I do not cry, but I do drink an ounce of apple juice, downing it like a shot of tequila, and then I find my Mom and I show her my medal.  And the day should be a victory.  But two men die while running.  And then, in the car, driving back to BeanTown, when I should be eating or sleeping or stretching (I do none of those things) I learn that the little baby has crossed her finish line too, gone from earth to heaven.  And my medal seems inconsequential.

Christmas is wonderful.  I spend 4+ days at home with my family.  I see my baby sister dance as the Principal Dancer in the Portland Ballet with an entire orchestra playing for her. I enjoy time with my relatives and being the only daughter at home on Christmas morning without once edging into pity-land or wondering why my sisters get what I want.  Instead, I am happy.  For once, on a holiday, I am not sick.  Burnt out from work, dreading homework, but I set that all aside and I am just present in the day.  Present in each new experience. And then I head back to Boston and my Mom calls me in tears.  The boy, not so little anymore, who I first saw in a stroller when his adoptive parents proudly showed him around the neighborhood, who I spent my summers babysitting when he was young, and then listening to his antics with my sisters when he grew older, has been shot.  He is dead.  And one feels a range of emotions (sadness – he is so young, there was an entire life ahead of him, guilt – could we have done more, why did he make such bad choices, understanding – the US Marshals were only protecting themselves and following protocol, embarrassment – he disobeyed the law, that has consequences, grief – this ending is all wrong for him and for his parents and for us).  Yes, their were bad choices and consequences to actions but love is blind to all of that.  Love is not just for the perfect and the noble and the good.  I am so grateful for that.

Joy and sorrow mix.  As children, we see it happen and we respond in kind.  We cry and we laugh almost in the same breath.  But the crying is so quickly canceled out by the laughing and even if the little dry sobs takes a while to disappear, the tears are already gone and the smile shows that, for this child, this moment is the best moment ever.

As adults, joy and sorrow mix.  We rejoice over an engagement while comforting someone else over a loss.  And the joy and the sorrow ebb and flow and we experience many joys and many sorrows simultaneously and we learn how to live in the juxtaposition of happy and sad, calm and chaos, sorrow and sunshine, grief and gladness.

And we know, even if we never express it, that this sorrow isn’t the last.

There will be more.

And we rejoice because this joy isn’t the last, either.

There will be many more.

And in the end, there will be joy.


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