SOFT Stories – Rejoice in the Journey

Rejoice in the Journey

Reflections, February, 2010

I went shopping before the snow expected by late morning. We finally could see patches of grass, and another storm was imminent. A few days ago it was reported there was snow in all 50 states. If misery likes company, there was plenty of it. Three days earlier I was to speak at B. U. School of Medicine about embracing possibilities, educating medical students about what SOFT parents want from their physicians. With dire reports of late afternoon blizzard conditions making me anxious about driving back from the other side of Boston, I decided to take the subway, then the reportedly easy seven-minute walk to the Medical Center.

It was in fact a brisk fifteen-minute walk, over glass, by some trash strewn doorways, across a bridge first spanning rails, then two highways, followed by island hopping past two intersections and into traffic around a construction site. I now know the location of the veal and lamb wholesalers, the Gorton fisherman’s distribution center and the methadone clinic. Explaining the reality of trisomy to medical students was a welcome relief. When I left the class at 4:30 to retrace my steps, not a flake in sight. Cars were being towed, because there was a city-wide state of emergency declared, but still not a flake. The flakes were stalled in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and other locations with fewer shovels and plows. It has certainly been the winter of our discontent, but there have also been a few reprieves for northerners, as storms barreled up the coast to head out to sea. Those south of us have been relentlessly battered and had their lives disrupted for months.

So, with a storm coming and assuming we would not luck out again, I shopped early, slipping into TJ Maxx before entering the grocery store. There, on its side, I noticed a small pink ceramic stand with a round indentation about an inch and a half in diameter. There must have been a clock. The corners of the frame were chipped. Actually, there were eleven chips scattered across the surface. It was battered. The chunk missing from the base meant it listed or toppled when placed upright. I picked it up wondering why anyone would try to sell something dropped a few too many times. In gilded cursive, it read, “Find time each day to rejoice in the journey.”  Even the script was crooked, probably what landed the piece at TJ Maxx in the first place. For thirty cents I could buy an ironic metaphor for adversity.

How many times have we all been too busy or stressed, too sad or disappointed, to do any rejoicing. The journey we take is one that knicks the corners, scratches the surface and even knocks out essential pieces. We too list or topple. In the past three weeks a close cousin in Michael’s family passed away and the first cousin in my family passed away. In late middle age, it was the order of things, but vibrant lives had been lost too soon with both cognitive decline and pain marking their final months. For the first time someone I actually know went to the SOFT website and called me after a trisomy 18 prenatal diagnosis. We had attended their wedding. Samuel was stillborn a few weeks after the call. We attended a memorial mass in the same church in which his parents were married. We turned our prayers to Zion, Leilani and Savannah. By mid February we prayed for Kristie, Jamie, Mariah and Olivia as they faced their loss of Zion, who at eight years lived longer than expected but left them much too soon.

Sometimes, it is hard to rejoice in the journey, because we are so often living in the moment, busy reacting to what happens to us and to those we care about. We react to being disappointed, wanting more time, less suffering and clearer answers. Too often we find the journey difficult with both demands and emotions that absorb us and outcomes that are unexpected or untimely. It is hard to rejoice when we hurt.

This afternoon I looked out at pine branches heavy with snow. A male cardinal, followed by his more subdued mate, visited the feeder, then flew to the cedar, a splash of red, then rust, against stark white. They were replaced by bluejays, each taking a side of the feeder, equally dramatic against the white. I received a call from a colleague who now has my students, asking how retirement was going. I played with the puppy in the snow, had a cup of tea and knit for a while, all soothing activities offering reason to rejoice. I made clam chowder from fresh clams, and we sat on the couch to eat, Tara with the gray SOFT blanket around her. She looked up and said, “It’s like being on Cape Cod on a cloudy day.” Days earlier we had passed papers on my late mother’s condo and closed the door on our Cape connection. We are able to revive the memories and rejoice in the good times we shared. In little ways we do take time to rejoice in the journey, that despite its challenges gives us opportunities to carve out time for positive experiences, memories, and reasons to notice gifts along the way.

T. S. Eliot wrote, “Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something upon which to rejoice.” I wonder if we need consciously to construct what is worthy of eliciting rejoicing or are we capable of observing, making meaning, creating poetry and holding memory that allows joy. Are we able to rejoice because we are captured by what is already there? I believe we happen upon that which brings us joy and open ourselves to it. We allow ourselves to be captured and made happy by what is around us and in us. We do not construct so much as pay attention, notice, reflect and just make time in spite of  relentless demands.

Saturday, we took the dogs for walks on two Rhode Island beaches. At the cove, I was initially disappointed to find a man collecting sea glass. Purely selfish—fewer pieces for me.  He was taking his wife out for lobsters for Valentine’s Day, and she wore dress shoes and could not manage the snow and ice on the rocks bordering the beach. He was getting sea glass for her, while she waited in the car. I told him about a website for collectors, and, pleased by the opportunity to offer his wife another “gift”, he bent down, picked up a piece and gave it to me. It was close enough to pink, the color I was seeking to remember Annie. I walked with him up the beach, and I guess, assuming I was his age, he spoke of his time in Viet Nam, and I spoke of my friends whose time there may have contributed to their deaths more than ten years ago. I also thought of my classmates who died there. We both continued gathering glass, a shared not competitive endeavor.

He left, and Michael and I walked with the dogs, looked up at snow encrusted granite that bordered the cove and out at seabirds floating in an undulating sea. A week ago we had seen a pair of swans in the ocean, their curved elegance a surprise even in the calm of the cove. Winter’s white light broke through gray clouds and sparkled in a patch on a slate ocean beyond the rocks. There was time to rejoice. At the cove and the wide South Coast beach we visited next I found nearly one hundred pieces of sea glass (possible only in winter), some perfectly smoothed, nature’s jewels. I found the bottom of a porcelain mortar, minus the pestle, the broken edges smoothed by tides and sand. There were pale green pieces of fifty-year old hobbleskirt Coke bottles, transferware pottery, crockery and a polished Old Spice shard. There were deep purple remnants of the growth rings of quahog shells, Indian wampum. Broken, tossed, battered, chipped then smoothed, glass, ceramic and shells mirror our own less than smooth journeys. We find ourselves defined by the journey’s trials, not just by what is worth rejoicing. We are shaped by the interruptions, upheavals, jolts, obstacles and harshness, that accompany us despite our best efforts, prayers and hopeful expectations. Even what is broken and buffeted offers beauty in time. The sea glass and other shore treasures in their subtle colors, rounded edges and elegantly random shapes remind us that time transforms as well as heals and offers us reasons to rejoice.

Pam Healey

Mom to Conor, T-18, 1986