Today, I heard the birds singing and watched the sun glint off rainwater left in the cup of a Hosta leaf. I looked up into the clear blue sky as I walked a familiar park trail. As I rounded the corner of this trail, just past a bursting mulberry tree, I saw a male and a female cardinal together with the tips of their beaks nearly touching. And just past this, the face of a friend coming to be my companion for a morning walk.
It was all normal and so mundane, yet today it was the first inkling of joy, the first seeds of life being resurrected within my own leaden heart. Today is one week since my dear friend Adrienne–the woman who was my first friend in Shepherdstown, my first mama friend who I learned to be a mother with, my sister who I took for granted and also loved so very deeply, the friend who was the impetus of my first Peace Project writing, and the exact person I wanted to teach Dive in and Thrive with—died. And so indeed my heart has been leaden. Emily Dickenson expressed this better than any I’ve ever know: “The Feet, mechanical, go round –/ A Wooden way / Of Ground, or Air, or Ought—/ Regardless grown, / A Quartz contentment, like a stone—/ This is the Hour of Lead…” No matter that I teach of joy and gratitude, and of sadness and letting go. No matter that I know these to be the most fundamental experiences for a full human journey. My heart has refused to experience anything except the feeling of being leaden.
Today, I rose from bed and my first thought was of Adrienne. But instead of turning to thoughts of worry, fear, anger, regret, or deep grief, I thought, ‘my friend was one of the most joyful people I’ve ever known. I am so grateful for her.’ And then I opened The Book of Joy, a book she loaned me just before she went into the hospital for what turned out to be a very tumultuous and all-together short journey through metastatic breast cancer, into death. It is a compilation of conversations with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond TuTu. The passage I opened to is of them answering the question of how they deal with the stress of insomnia, grief, or fear. To which Archbishop Tutu says that he thinks about people all around the world also experiencing this and that thinking about others and remembering that he is not alone lessens his distress and his worries. Thinking of them, he prays for them all. He goes on to say that this is a way of handling our worries: “You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.”
And so, reading this, I sat, and I thought of my grief-stricken friends and I imagined holding each of them as I prayed that perhaps they’d experience and be met with some graciousness and encouragement to carry them through this day. I thought of this again when I arrived at the park to the man who works there mornings caring for the grounds, who’s become a familiar friend to me. He said a dear friend of 50 years had died 3 days earlier—I could see his sadness and mine mirror one another in that moment. I knew then that I’m not alone, that I’m never alone. And for a moment that was enough to plant one small seed of sacred joy for all the living we get to do together.
I forget to live in love and gratitude. I get irritable and gossip and rush through visits with friends, and through life’s moments, too fast. I think I am not the only one who might say this. We all forget to savor the gift of blue skies and friendships and the quirkiness of our own and others’ pasts that create the story of who we are. We forget to taste and savor the gift of our body and the amazing plenitude of what feels so mundane. I think perhaps that is the one gift of death. That we are seated again in stillness for a time so that we can remember so much that is so easily forgotten.
I intend to stand on my mat and be grateful for the ability to move. I intend to pause to look into the faces of the people I love as they speak. I intend to go slower and drink in my life. I intend to ask for help daily because I know I’m completely powerless if I believe I’m alone. I’ll keep intending to live this way. And perhaps together we can remind one another.
In the words of my dear friend, “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, nor does anyone, but today is wonderful.” Today there was wonder, and it was good. And I got to notice it all.