Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"The Year of Pleasures"

Great title. But it's not original to me. It's the name of a novel by Elizabeth Berg that I plowed through earlier this week. A woman named Betta is widowed in Boston. She sells her house and moves to a tiny town outside of Chicago in a quest to fulfill the dream she and her husband, John, had shared. What happens in the course of the rest of the book makes up her year of pleasures. It is a well written volume with details about food, flowers, and friendships that made me smile, wonder if I could survive life in a small town, and give thanks for the family and friends I have.

At one point, Betta, discovers a box of old love letters in the attic of her new house. After reading the first letter, Betta began to think back to her own marriage.

"I reread the letter, sat back in the chair, took another long drink of coffee. And noticed a specific and breathtaking absence. At the moment, nothing hurt. What I felt was only hope, that internal sunrise. The image of John's face came into my head, and I felt only my great luck at having had him for as long as I did. I'd learned enough about grieving to know that other ways of feeling would come back soon enough. But it seemed to me that this was the way we all lived: full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next. Finding balance between the two was the art and the salvation."

"Hope, that internal sunrise."

What a wonderful phrase and apt description of hope. In the face of sorrow and pain, there is still the expectation that the sun will rise again. That joy will bloom again, as assuredly as the daffodil bulbs buried beneath the lawn will push a persistent bud through the hardened soil again in the spring. It will take time. The darkness of despair, pain, and loneliness is deep, but the sun does come out again. It always does; the question is: will we notice when it does or will we have taken up residence in the dungeon of discouragement?

Today is the first anniversary of the death of little Christopher Sanders, the boy whose death I wrote about last April. His widowed mother continues to mourn him. His sister continues miss him. Every time I see them, I want to hug them both and assure them that they remain in our thoughts and prayers daily, but they both still look fragile enough to disintegrate and blow away if I even touch them. I pray that they will soon feel and see the bloom of peace and of joy in their own lives.

"But it seemed to me that this was the way we all lived: full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next."

Perfect description of my emotional life these days. I'm reading a lot. Questioning the value, the meaning, and the importance of everything in my life right now - everything. Some days I feel like I am on top of it all, that life makes sense. That my marriage and my church and homeschooling and this house and teaching and everything else are just as they ought to be. On other days, none of it makes sense. None of it satisfies. None of it holds even the slightest appeal. But I hang on, hold on, pray on, and journal my way through to the other side.

I feel like a surfer. When I see a wave coming, I get a good grip on my board, hoist myself to my feet, and ride it in to shore. Then the next wave comes, so I prepare to stand, but my feet slide out from under me, and I am overwhelmed by the water. I take a deep breath, hang on to the board, and hope that my lungs don't burst before I reach the surface. Sometimes, I don't know what board I should be holding on to. I don't know how much I want to come back up. And I don't know which shore I am on when I land.

"Finding balance between the two was the art and the salvation."

There must be an art to surfing, to trusting one's ability to know which waves to ride over and which to ride under. I haven't mastered that art yet, but I am determined to learn.

I am reminded of the two or three unsuccessful attempts I have made to waterski. I have never "gotten up," but I've come very close. I hold the rope too taut and land hard on my face. I don't hold it far enough in front and land on my bottom. (Or is it the other way around?) In any case, I've never been able to get up onto my feet and see the lake from above my skis. My mind often goes back to those attempts, and I imagine myself giving it one more try and getting it right the next time.

In the end, the best part of waterskiing for me was lying in the water, on my back, waiting for the boat to come back around and pick me up. I'd lie there, looking up at the beautiful Connecticut sky, wishing I could figure out how to waterski, but also grateful for the solo time out on the water. I ended up talking to the clouds about the man I loved, about the children I adored, and wondering what would happen to my floating body if a boat came my way and didn't see me there.

Finding my balance on waterskis has not happened. Yet.
Finding my balance in life happens on occasion.
And then I hold on too tight and lose my balance again.
In any case, I'm glad to be here, floating on the sea that is my life, looking up at the Carolina blue sky by day, the phases of the moon by night, and determined to find the balance required to see and land successfully on the distant shore, wherever or whatever it turns out to be.

And in the meantime, I will work hard to make this a year of pleasures.


Nancy said...

"But it seemed to me that this was the way we all lived: full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next."

Love this quote Gail. Wow, this IS how it seems most of the time!

What is this quoted from?

Easter Blessings to you and your family!

Monique Yeaton said...

This reminds me very much of a book I'm reading called "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you haven't yet, you should check it out. She writes about much of the same things, joy, sadness and finding balance in life.