Chances are you have at least two and the thought of either sends you right back to the very moment it happened. Chances are that by simply contemplating either, your eyes slowly close and you breathe deep in anticipation of what is coming. Your mind plays the entire scene out as if in real time and you see what you saw and hear what you heard. Either a cold chill runs through your veins, forcing your arms to tighten in protection and your head bows low in the sacredness of the moment or, perhaps, the joy is so great it is impossible to contain the smile that forces your eyes to squint tighter and the adrenaline of the victory to raise your arm in fist-shaking acknowledgement.
Truth is – despite age, geography, means or purpose – every single soul has at least two of these moments.
One is the moment that will forever remind the heart of its most vulnerable and tender state. Eyes will pool over in the remembrance of the season where struggle and strain are palatable and easily considered a cruel joke. Simply breathing in this season is, at times, an Olympian feat and the thought that laughter could ever fill a room, a Herculean effort. You know what I am talking about, right? It is the goodbye you were not ready to offer; the unexpected diagnosis; a lover leaving or the realization that once knowing eyes no longer understand. Or when the baby so desperately desired is never conceived or the baby that was born, is now the baby you bury. Pain and grief of these moments are raw and darkness seems to gain a stronghold as a weary body wonders how much longer it can carry the unfathomable weight.
And then, there’s the other. The other is a moment that will forever carry an excitement and joy that forces a body to perk in the remembrance of victory. Shoulders will square, a smile emerging ear-to-ear, the energy infectious and unable to contain. There is nothing anyone can do or say that will squelch the joy that pulsates through every nerve. Oh, these are the moments, my sweet friends, that we sound the trumpets and exalt a resounding ‘YES’! It is the wail that comes from a newborn’s first breath, the letter reminding you are in fact worthy, lovers united, and diseases cured – battles well fought and won – dreams dared to be dreamt becoming realized. These are the moments that fuel the body, offer encouragement to press on and permission to dream beyond whatever thought possible.
As I write these words, my moments come to mind. The memories that swirl, especially during this time of year, and send my thoughts into overdrive. Sleepless nights return, and I weep watching my brave one once again square his shoulders. My familiar friend, grief, settles in and sits for a spell. Tears pool with no advance notice and that, which was an easy task suddenly, takes twice as long. Then, just like that, I am where I was eight years ago and I wonder, ‘really?’ And yet, at the same time, Catherine’s laughter echoes, as if she is standing next to me, showing all is beautiful. Next to her, is my brave one – once boy, now man – assuring me with gentle spirit and soulful eyes that he will accomplish amazing things. I watch his smile emerge and am convinced once again that he is the most beautiful creature I will ever encounter. There are days when filled to overflowing is an understatement. And I wonder, ‘really?’
I had always thought the moments that break and the moments that build could not co-exist. I was convinced that pain and laughter could not and frankly, should not co-mingle. Joy, so beautiful, so magnificent, its essence so pure, should not be marred by the darkness that envelops pain and grief. They seem so dramatically different; surely, they could not merge. And yet, they do and they should…it is how the world finds balance.
The day that Catherine died was like no other. She had gasped when she opened the box and found new boots with jingle bells tied to the laces. She skipped beside me, her new boots jingling all the way to the bus stop. Her mittened hands kept mine warm as she promised me the gingerbread house she was to build that weekend would be awesome. “This year,” she told me, “there would be lots of frosted reindeers…. lots and lots of frosted reindeers.” I kissed the inside of her hand and she pushed it into her heart – assuring me it went all the way to her jingle belled toes and as she turned to climb the bus’s stairs, she smiled a smile that I had never seen before, nor will I ever forget. And yet on this very same day, she would fall victim and I would be forced to offer a goodbye I was not ready to offer. And I wonder, had she come home that afternoon, would I have realized the smile she offered, her hands warming mine, her chatter and her excitement, were a gift beyond measure or would I have taken that for granted?
It is within this question that I have wrestled, that I have discovered and now understand. In a goodbye that set so much pain into motion, I have discovered joy can be and should be found in the darkness. Joy and pain, when existing in parallel, can create a beautiful balance. Here, equilibrium and peace are found and is where healing begins. You see, the simple fact is that because of that day, I know the gift offered in the goodbye. And, it is because of that day and in the place we call sanctuary, when the memory of Catherine makes me miss her more than I have ever missed her before, I turn my face to the sky and feel Catherine kiss my tear-stained cheek. On the days I desire nothing more than to hear her jingle bell boots, I get to witness children laughing in delight in the place where Catherine’s gentle spirit lives. And when winter’s breeze crosses the meadow and I tuck my hands into my pockets, bracing for the season in front of me, it is her mittened hands that I feel warming mine and I find my balance – a center where joy and pain collide and make way for a beautiful healing.