The Very Essence of Joy

Impermanence is the very essence of joy — the drop of bitterness that enables one to perceived the sweet.

–Myrtle Reed, Master of the Vineyard

This afternoon the post-holiday year-end anomie hit me. I feel immeasurably sad. Because all is well and peaceful in my life at the moment, I can only surmise this is grief over the passing of time.

Given the kind of year 2005 was, I could very well say “good riddance” to it. Yet it contained some wonderful things as well. Is there a gauge for rating a year’s good against bad events to determine its overall value?

This year contained illness and death in my family. It brought two pregnancy losses. It saw the severing of a seven year friendship. It allowed me to see how very frail my aging parents are becoming, making me acutely aware of the 2,849 miles between us. Last night I realized that, if I have a child, my father-in-law will never know. During his last week of life I wondered if he was scared, if it saddened him to leave. He was a man who did not speak about emotions much. I will never know the answers to these questions. I do know this, though. If I have a child, I will be sad that he is gone, that my child will never know him.

From this flows the awareness of gaps in my own family. I never met my maternal grandmother or paternal grandfather. We lived far enough from the rest of the family to make visits infrequent and short. (This is not a critiscim of my parents; we lived where there was work for my father in a place large enough to provide a broader life experience than the small towns in which they grew up.) My siblings have chosen other paths than parenthood. I have postponed parenthood; if I succeed, my child will hardly have an extended family. We are spread all over the country. Sometimes when I think of this, of being a parent in this community, I feel very alone. Yes, there are plenty of places to connect, and lots of groups where I could make friends with other parents. Yet there is no continuity, no history. My parents are in New York; my mother-in-law lives in Washington. Grandma and grandpa won’t be nearby to drive the kids over for a visit.

A child-free existence makes transience more tolerable.

And yet… and yet. Millions of people live with these broken threads in their family tapestry. They survive and even thrive. I am not alone. And this was the year I got married to my wonderful husband. I was hired for a job I’d never done (academic coaching) and discovered I loved it. Now I am about to start working for a non-profit, developing community programs in the bay area. I learned to knit this year. I read a lot of books. I made art for 30 days in a row and discovered I have more talent than I’d known. I got to visit friends and family in Austin for my birthday and to spend time with my parents, extended family, and eldest sister in September. I made some new friends. I’m able to meet my basic needs and most of my desires. 2006 shows great promise.

Sadness is impermanent, too.

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4 Comments on “The Very Essence of Joy”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    Yes, it is…and it’s important to feel it fully when it comes up, I think. You’ve had quite a year. I’m so glad to have rediscovered your blog this year–I used to read it a couple of years ago and then drifted away somehow. Here’s to a bright ’06…hope it brings you hope and joy.

  2. William Sackinger Says:

    Continuity of one’s relationships extends into the past (in the form of your memory) and into the present and into the future (in the form of your personal descretion with respect to communications and the initiation of contacts). Fortunately, one’s memory does not perforce impose a timeline…that is, one can collapse all memories of visits and interactions with a particular person into a single memory record, eliminating the gaps in time when there was no contact with the person. Perhaps this is conceptually similar to the new invention via DVD where one can eliminate the commercials and only have the essence of the video. Think of compressing into a single video, all interactions you ever had with person X.

    As for the future, new interactions are mostly under your discretion, assuming the person is alive with whom you wish to interact. It only takes initiative and a positive attitude, both of which you have and use.

    It is said that we live in a global village. True enough, and within that village, we live with a global family. Just as in the old days one would visit a cousin living on the other side of the village (by walking over there), today one can visit the cousin by telephone, by email, by speedy aircraft visits….we really have it easy, as compared to the time in 1870 when a handwritten letter written in Germany on Schriftag (day after Christmas) would take 5 days to the seaport, 45 days on the sailing ship, and another 5 days to the destination in upstate New York.

    All the best


  3. maria Says:

    Wow — it’s been quite a year for you. Lots of losses, yes, but also some wonderful new beginnings (like your marriage) and discoveries (like Kathryn the artist) … and much to look forward to.

    I have struggled for eight years now to reconcile my desire to live in a warmer place (ideally the San Diego area), with my equally strong desire to be near my family. Since we are originally from Europe, I have only my parents and my sister here (though there is a huge extended family in Spain) … so there is a strong desire to be close by, to not miss out on ‘family,’ since I missed out on being close to all of my relatives after moving here when I was it. At the same time, there is also a sense of responsibility that I feel about caring for my parents if they need me, even though both are in good health still, and I’ve had some friends with the experience that you describe … trying to cope with a parent’s (or both parents’) ailing health while living far away. And then, every time winter rolls around here in the northeast, I curse the fact that my parents didn’t choose to settle somewhere warmer when they moved to the U.S. Oh well … it’s a set of conflicting desires/realities that I live with, but there are no easy answers on that one.

    Happy New Year, Kathryn! May it shower you with all the blessings you desire and deserve.

  4. maria Says:

    that was supposed to be … ‘since I missed out on being close to all of my relatives after moving here when I was EIGHT … ‘ not ‘it.’