Wonders of everyday life
“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?