Finding the Joy

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Several months ago, April to be precise, I was given a series of reflection questions related to the losses I’ve had since the March 17th lockdown. I may have mentioned this in my original post, In the Midst of Loss about that retreat session and over the course of the month following that first hour I would bring up the subject to myself and think about those losses, the reasons for them, as well as trying to name my feelings about them, and then question how to say goodbye to what’s been lost. It is obviously much harder to say goodbye to a loved one who has died during this pandemic; that loss is astronomically deeper and more upsetting than the loss of work or routine or our regular habits, although the loss of work is catastrophic in its own way and those of us struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and others will feel that some of our losses are also catastrophic. How do we accept the losses we are experiencing and move forward even in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, a pandemic that will continue to be with us for many more months to come, if not at least another year or more? What strategies can be adopted and adapted to move on; to create a new ordinary for our lives?

There were two additional, important and hard to answer questions broached during that session. The first was do we really want back what we’ve lost? All of it? Are there some things that we have lost that we kind of want to stay lost? The second was to ask ourselves what was good about this time.

While we’ve all had losses, we’ve also had gains. There were good things that were perhaps only seen in retrospect. How do we find joy in the confusion and chaos of today?

That was a lot to absorb into my head, and then to think about for four weeks. I had intended to write about it so I’d have something to contribute to the upcoming discussion, but I couldn’t sit down and think about it; I couldn’t reflect deeply or write, and then to try and make sense of it all, and that was okay, I guess. I persevered and kept coming back to it. I sat outside under my front tree, letting the breeze turn the pages of my journal that I wasn’t writing in. I re-read the notes from the first workshop, and formed the answers to the questions and formed more questions in my mind, sometimes talking out loud to myself.

It wasn’t until the evening of the second workshop, the second hour and conclusion of our discussion that I jotted down a few shorthanded answers to the reflection questions that I’d mulled over for thirty-five days. Those thirty-five days seemed simultaneously as short as three days and as long as three months, and still not either. Fr. K talked about creating a new map so we can travel what’s ahead, a new map to cope with the new world; with the new regular. There won’t be any going back to the pre-covid world; it doesn’t exist anymore. There is only now.

Choosing one loss to focus on was not as easy as it sounded. It wasn’t that I had so many losses to choose from, but they seemed about equal in intensity and they each had their own levels of feelings (sadness, anger, longing) associated with them. Some also had several aspects linked to them that almost gave them an individual status of loss. Losing the church community: the weekly masses, the daily masses, the Eucharist, the monthly Cursillo grouping and Ultreyas as well as the loss of the sacraments for the RCIA candidates and the Cursillo workshops and events that were cancelled throughout the spring. Losing the writing community: the cancellation of workshops, the lack of random prompts, the time and space to write, the solitude of writing, the writing routines. Loss of spiritual retreats: the spring is a very busy time for single day retreats and one weekend scheduled and all cancelled. Loss of sleep: so much insomnia, worry, stress that never left my body and wouldn’t let my mind relax for even a moment. Many things lost from one setback.

But on the other hand, what was gained?

As much as I thought remote schooling would be stressful for everyone and lead to anarchy and bedlam in our house, I discovered that not yelling at kids to get up and get on the bus at seven in the morning was actually pretty nice. From the beginning they took care of their own breakfast and lunch needs without too much complaint. I was getting more information from my kids’ schools than when they were in school as teachers and administrators were concerned about maintaining communication. For my daughter that included a nightly email about what she had done and what was still due.

We cooked more, but as much work as that had been, we were trying new recipes (thanks Chef Jose Andres for the best recipe we’ve ever made – Angel Hair Pasta!) and my kids have been cooking, each finding their own specialties. My daughter makes a really good chicken tenders and chicken Alfredo and my son has perfected his kielbasa with pineapples and rice. I’ve made homemade meatballs every week for the last three. It’s a lot of work, but it’s really worth it in the end.

Our car has gotten three weeks to the gallon. Alright, that’s more of a joke, but for weeks the car never moved.

I’ve spent some time outdoors. I don’t usually – the sun bothers me, but I’ve taken out my camp chair and sat under the tree in my front yard, planning to write or read or even listen to a podcast. However, more time than I would have thought I’ve just found myself sitting there, listening to the sounds of nature, the passing cars, the church bells ringing, and before I know it hours have passed. I only noticed the passing of time by the movement of the sun and the diminishing of my shady spot. Unintentional meditation. Nature theology. The last time I was outside was to listen to the eleven o’clock bells was in July, ringing for the life of John Lewis. It gave me moments to rest in his grace and add his ways to my own.

I’ve been able to continue therapy, which keeps me centered, by phone. It is part of my routine that I need. I’ve continued mass through Facebook Live, and my church has added some new things, like storytime with our priest and a weekly reflection by our pastoral associate. Some retreats that translate well to zoom and FBLive have begun by my regular retreat house, and I’ve enjoyed attending those. They are the slow down that I use to grow closer to G-d, and to re-energize. A few of my writing colleagues have gotten together at the park, masks and socially distant, and we’ve begun our prompts and writing, biweekly rather than monthly while the weather holds.

I’m going to ignore the current political shitstorm and I will reflect on the life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg all throughout the rest of the year. Of anyone, she would encourage not wallowing, not living in fear, but standing up, speaking out, and being sure to be heard.

One voice silenced doesn’t stop the march forward – not of time nor progress. Joy will continue. We will see it on the faces of children. It will reflect on us while we look at the leaves changing, the birds singing, the children laughing.

Joy remains and is ever present if we are willing to pause, reflect, meditate on our gratitude for our abundance of allies, love, and support in the world. Reach out your hand and I will take it. We will lead each other out of the darkness and the joy will follow.

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