Wonders of everyday life

I have no memory of taking this photo, but obviously, I did. Owen Ramon, December 2016

“Remember, looking at bad news doesn’t mean good news isn’t happening. It’s happening everywhere. It’s happening right now. Around the world. In hospitals, at weddings, in schools and offices and maternity wards, at airport arrival gates, in bedrooms, in inboxes, out in the street, in the kind smile of a stranger. A billion unseen wonders of everyday life.”Matt Haig

The first few months after Jeff’s death– and really, most of the weeks and months during the years since his diagnosis in 2012– are something of a blur to me. Specific recall will come back only with some concrete reminder, such as a letter or photograph. Deep in my inner core I remember mostly the pain, and it often comes on me in unexpected waves that send me reeling, both physically and emotionally. My heart tells me only of the sadness and trauma, even though my mind knows there was far more going on, and not all of it was bad.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I was cleaning off an old flash drive so I could use it to back up some folders. On it, I discovered a cache of photos I had forgotten about. They were taken that first Christmas after Jeff died, when the weeks had been filled with the raw, numb instincts that enable us to go through the motions without much knowing what we are doing. The photos are happy ones. A person viewing them would never guess that the photographer could scarcely see what was in the camera’s viewfinder due to the blindness of deep grief.

Of course I knew that Matt and I had spent that Christmas in Atlanta, and that Mama was still alive, and that my sister and I had gone to see our “second parents,” Betty Jo and Tuffy. That visit was about the only happy memory I had been able to summon from that time, perhaps in part because I had blogged about it.  But other good things happened too. It’s just that I don’t remember them because they are obscured by the fog of sorrow that still persists to some degree, but has its epicenter in those first weeks and months after Jeff left us.

Have you ever noticed how events can reach back and color the past without our even being aware of it? A person loses a battle with cancer, and when the ending is not happy, the years of hopeful struggle and the joys of temporary remissions and victories seem to vanish. A family member or friend betrays or forgets us, and their many years of happy association take on a different hue, coloring all our recollections of them. A job, or a marriage, or a place we were once excited to live can somehow go from being a rewarding stage of life we welcomed and celebrated, to something we must put behind us for our own peace of mind. Then, too often, the memories of the good years are seen only through the disfiguring lens of what happened later.

But as Haig says, despite everything else, there always is good news, and much of it goes unremarked. Not just now, but in the years past. To name just one example: seventy years ago today, my Mama and Daddy got married. I’m so glad they did! According to the Los Angeles Times front page published on that day, the news was a mix of good and bad, but my personal history took a definite turn for the better on September 2, 1949, since I wouldn’t be here if not for the marriage of two obscure but remarkable people in rural Alabama.

I think Haig’s quote speaks not only about the present, but also about the past. Whether the heartbreak and dismay are part of today’s news or distant years gone by, either way we are all too prone to let the noise of our pain drown out all that is good, right, and worth celebrating. When that happens, we are being twice robbed of joy. We are watering the weeds of bitterness and resentment instead of cultivating those gorgeous blooms that keep breaking through the neglected soil.

Are there unpleasant places in your past or present that could use a second and third look, seeking something good that you may have overlooked or forgotten? If so, I’ll go on that emotional scavenger hunt with you. I need lots of practice at spotting joy, and I’m going to see it as an adventure. Over time, who knows what we may find?

25 Comments

  1. Sheila

    Good morning, my dear friend. Busyness abounds here but all is well. We need to take a break and sit and sip out on that gorgeous September Verandah. I regret never keeping a journal over the years to remind me of many forgotten moments and words and even people. I’m thankful for the many years that we’ve shared a special friendship here! Stormy days ahead here but 428 has weathered many weather situations. I’ll keep you advised! 🧡🙏🏻

    • Sheila, you’ve been on my mind daily (maybe hourly, or at least every time I hear the weather reports). I’m so happy that we are enjoying Santa Ynez as our virtual meeting place this month. It’s one of my favorite places on earth and I have a gorgeous picture of (a very young) Drew and Matt at Mission Santa Inés, with those lovely green hills (California’s version of mountains) in the background. There’s a reason Ronald Reagan and countless celebrities chose to live there. Those Tuscany sunflowers are a nice bonus! Thanks for continuing to meet me on our Verandah. I too wish I’d kept a journal consistently. The few I have kept have become treasures and have reminded me of so much that I would otherwise have forgotten. I think this blog is now my version of a journal and especially the comments section. Thoughts and prayers to all at 428 and everyone in Dorian’s path. My heart breaks for the lovely people and places of the Bahamas.

  2. Very encouraging post. Thank you Julia. Hope is not lost in the world. ❤

    • Thank you, Suzette! I’m so happy you are here, and even happier that you enjoyed today’s post. Hope indeed springs eternal. ❤

  3. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    I’m inclined to agree with Matt Haig, and you. The world is a big place, and much is transpiring every moment. There will always be something to be grateful for. Good, and evil, will be with us on this Earth. That’s the natural order of things. As human beings, however, we tend to narrow our focus in the midst of crisis. I think it’s really human nature. The trick is to see the bigger picture, and with humility acknowledge that we’re not the center of the universe. When, and if, we can readily recognize this, we will have a joyful heart. With that said, I, too, am human. We all are. There have been times, and probably will be more times, when I’ve succumbed to despair in the moment. But knowing the truth makes it easier to recompose and carry on.
    Have a great Labor Day!

    • Thank you Chris, for being here and sharing your thoughts with us. Yes, so much depends on keeping an outward focus. It reminds me of one of Ashleigh‘s favorite epigrams: “The farther you are from home, the bigger an area ‘home’ becomes.” When we step outside ourselves, as we venture forth, what we perceive as “home” becomes larger and more important to us. Someday if we do make it to Mars as Elon Musk and others hope, the entire earth will then truly become (in our own minds) our home! The corollary is also true; the more we turn inward and focus only on our own small world, the less at home we are likely to feel anywhere else, and thus, we will miss out on a lot of the joy you mention. Hope you had a great holiday and are having a nice week.

  4. Chris

    Such a cute picture of Owen!!

    • Thanks Chris, I thought so too. He’s a cute kid, even more so now than when he was a baby (though I just love that toothless grin all babies have).

      • Chris

        I agree! 😍

  5. Mary Ellen Davis

    Happy Birthday Julia! Love and Blessings to you and thank you for all your amazing and encouraging posts!

    • Thank you Mary Ellen. I must have been confusing with the way I wrote the post; September 2 is not my birthday, but the day my parents got married. However, the good wishes are appreciated any time! And I’m so thankful for your presence here, and your encouragement.

  6. Harry Sims

    “….the marriage of two obscure but remarkable people in rural Alabama.”

    Where in rural Alabama Julia?

    Harry

    • North Alabama, about an hour from Huntsville.

      • Harry Sims

        I was born in Abanda Alabama In 1932.
        That’s where the A B and A railroad crosses the highway.

        Harry

  7. Good morning, Julia!
    This post certainly gives me a lot to think about. I’m considering the aspects of our human condition that cause us to be so:
    Passionate (we’re often consumed by emotion)
    Fickle (our emotions change)
    Forgetful (we forget that we ever felt differently)
    Short-sighted (we don’t consider that our emotional state may change yet again)
    I think I’m struggling to find one word or phrase that describes how we seem only able to be passionate in one direction at a time, without self-awareness or much meta-cognition, and how that’s both helpful and not helpful to us.
    Hmm.
    Why do I wonder this? My ADD?
    I suppose that when being chased by tigers or something, it’s good to have a singleness of mind. But I can think of many examples where a little broader perspective might have been useful.

    • Susan, when I read your comment here, two things came to mind. One, it’s true that the things you list are part of the human condition, but my observation and experience have led me to think that there’s a WIDE range of how much or how little these traits apply to individuals. Jeff, for example, was much less subject to emotional turmoil than I am. Second, the trait that stands out to me as the one I see most consistently, in myself and in others, is this inability to imagine ever feeling differently than we currently feel. This applies to both the past and the future, too, in some cases, partly (I suspect) because of what is often called “sour grapes” — i.e., “I never liked that ______ anyway” or “I have no wish to be part of _________ ever again.” Meta-cognition is a practice that I find to be relatively rare, hence the lack of self awareness that is more the rule than the exception. As you say, thinking is a two-edged sword, “both helpful and not helpful,” and it seems rare to find a person who thinks just enough…but not too much! 😀 I’ll never forget reading (in 9th grade, I believe) the words of the doomed Caesar, as imagined by Shakespeare, and seeing myself in his description of Cassius. Caesar says:

      Let me have men about me that are fat,
      Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
      Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
      He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

      Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 190–195

      Caesar turned out to be right about Cassius, but he still ended up dead by his hand, despite knowing of the danger. Thus was I duly warned of the danger of thinking too much, but somehow I can’t find that on/off switch that operates my brain!!

      • That is a very interesting perspective on Cassius and Caesar.
        People who don’t “sleep at night” due to thinking reminds me of my mom, the worrier, while Dad could just sleep. Of course, sleep deprivation isn’t so good for emotional health, either. I know I’m not at my best when sleep is lacking, so now I’m thinking Cassius was caught in a perpetual cycle. Ug. Not helpful to anyone, really.
        I’ve had a lot more sleep this week than the past few, and I can tell the difference!

        • Yes, I have come to regard sleep as perhaps the single biggest factor in my own emotional AND physical health (or lack thereof). I’ve had problems with sleep all of my life, in one form or another. The reasons and patterns have varied somewhat but it remains my biggest challenge overall. Ironically, worrying about getting enough sleep can actually become an obstacle to sleep! Over the years, I’ve learned a good bit about what seems to help or hinder, but despite that, I don’t always do so well at following the best course. For example, one rule I am breaking right this second is not to do anything on the computer past 6 or 7 at night! That’s a hard rule to follow on busy days such as today, when I don’t even get a chance to turn on the computer until evening, and then stay busy with other things, but I do find it helps to stay off any sort of screen as much as possible. I’m glad you’ve had a restful week! It does indeed make a huge difference in seemingly EVERYTHING else, doesn’t it?

          • Yes, rest changes my perspective for the better, every time!

            • If only I knew a foolproof way to ensure I actually slept well, even when I allow myself that 8 hours each night for nothing but shut-eye. I’m working on that…

      • Another thought …
        But do we use every waking, thinking moment for either good or ill, or maybe fantasy which might be good, ill, or possibly neutral?

        • Sometimes it’s hard to know which thoughts are “for good” and which “for ill,” thought it’s often obvious. I wish I had a gear that could switch me into Neutral!

  8. mike c

    Are Betty Jo and Tuffy still in your life? They sound like nice people? The book my DIL is reading i”s Paper Wasp’s.” I have no idea what or who it is about.

    • Mike, I’m sorry to say that Tuffy died last August. I blogged about it here. Betty Jo stays in close touch with us and is doing well, all things considered. Their oldest child, Myra, died of cancer just recently. Myra was only a little older than me and I used to wear her hand me downs. I also wore for my own wedding the bridal gown both she and her sister wore for their weddings. I feel sad that Betty Jo has suffered so much loss lately. She is a kind person with a loving heart, who truly is a friend to all. She has been there for me and the rest of my family for as long as I can remember.

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