Finding Joy

My uncle died of COVID three weeks ago, just a few days before Christmas. He was the uncle who married my aunt, a young single mother of three boys, the first of whom she gave birth to at age sixteen, and took them in and raised them as if they were his own. They were the only couple of my mom’s six siblings who made the three-day drive from Colorado to visit us in upstate New York during the seven years we lived there. They made the same trek nearly thirty years later to surprise my sister for her Adirondack wedding, again the only members of my mother’s family to do so.

When I was a kid, my family joined the clan of aunts and uncles and cousins several times to do backcountry camping and motorbiking. My uncle once took me on a long ride through the mountains, me sitting in front of him on the dirtbike, until there were no more blue-sky views, no more stream crossings, and no more gas, patiently navigating and sharing with me his love for that bike, that adventure that brought so much joy to his life.

I wish I could say more, but social media and politics and all the things between now and then put a mountainous divide between my uncle and me. How could the same man who loved to crack jokes in front of the campfire and who left his mechanic shop to his adopted oldest son also tell me that Brett Kavanaugh should be on the Supreme Court and Trump should be president and that guns are the ultimate freedom?

In the end, politics took him more than COVID, and maybe that’s the way he wanted to go, unvaccinated and adamant until his last breath.

In the end, the people who come into our lives bring both joy and sorrow, no matter how close or distant the relationship is.

The sorrow is ever-present and easy to trap on the tips of our tongues. But the joy? It is too often shrouded in fear, hatred, or regret.

Not long after my uncle died, I heard (through the same evil social media) of an amazing human being, a classmate and friend from high school, who died of colon cancer. The outpouring of posts for this man will likely never end, and the hole he has left with his absence will be impossible to fill. And Kevin, though I hadn’t seen him since high school, brings back so many vivid memories to me. I can still hear his voice singing in our high school musicals, in the hallways at DSA, in the carriage ride downtown, on the bus on the way to school, in my heart. I can still remember the times I cried in his arms because of one heartbreak or another. The words I wrote about him in my journal. The poem he read shortly after graduation. The detailed map of Denver he carried in his head. The energy that he poured out of his whole body and into everything he did and everyone he met.

How does one measure a life? How does one spend their days–browsing the Internet, singing on stage, begging their children to do their chores? How much of life is lost in those moments of sorrow, of misunderstanding, when what each and every one of us is truly searching for is joy?

Sometimes that joy seems too hard to find.

But we must find it. Wherever we can.

Life is too short not to.

When…

Christmas arrives in small moments
since they're teens now and rarely grin
when sometimes anger or boredom overrule love
when the slopes seem too icy, the sky too blue for snow, the moon waning its winter brilliance

when that mountain sunrise is the only good part of your day.

when they were little, you begin to tell yourself, but the tears beat the words

and soon the day is upon us,
the cookies all given away now,
the hard-crack candy collecting that last light of day,
when they say they're tired of Christmas yet in the next breath beg its continuation

and you can feel their full presence in your life seeping away as they'll never all just do one thing together,
and you wonder when
there will be no more cookies,
no more cutting down the tree,
no more candy making or dirty bingo,
no more kids in your empty nest

when the moment ends, a softness seeps
between the long and lonely hours,
when they're always in their rooms,
when the waning winter light shines through,
when you wonder... When?