It wasn't your average Joy ride. It felt more like a roller coaster, strapped in, with G forces on the turns and dives that would snap your head back.
We got up at 4:30 am and as I sat next to my 18 year old son in the car I felt like I was bringing a soldier to war.
He was quiet and determined as we arrived at the hospital and I felt an overwhelming weight on my shoulders as they prepped him for brain surgery. I could do nothing to help him. He was truly a soldier-calm, stoic, brave and true to who he is-kind and courageous.
He was having a large, dangerous brain tumour removed. It wasn't a random one. He bore not only his own worries but the weight of the family history. He'd lost his grandmother well before his birth, to the same kind of tumour and he has an uncle who has suffered greatly from many of the same surgeries and been left with physical challenges because of these same tumours. He knew not everyone comes out ok and not everyone makes it.
As we waited for him to be rolled into the surgical suite he asked me to take a picture of his 'virgin' head, scar free and whole, knowing it would never be the same and it would bear the mark of his suffering and ultimately his healing.
A beautiful older male nurse asked if we had any questions and looked at his father and I with such intensity, he said "Don't worry, we will take good care of your boy" his gaze gave me strength and I felt a divine brush with his reassuring words.
We said 'goodbye' to our beloved boy, our man child, our deeply courageous soldier.
Where's the joy in this ride?
It is there, colouring the darkness, with brief bright patches. We were surrounded by loved ones that came from all over to help us pass the time as the surgery took place. Like doulas they helped us in what otherwise would have been a slow anguishing journey. It takes courage to walk alongside those who suffer, yet they showed up, drove from hours away to stand alongside us in our angst and to silently stand alongside our boy.
There was joy. A quiet stream of joy knowing we were not alone, we were loved and we were held in a divine grace that whispers alongside us in the most troubled times.
The nurse came down every 90 minutes after peeking in on the surgery and to tell us that he was doing ok. My baby with his head cracked open and more vulnerable than most have ever been.
There was hint of Joy.
When the surgeon called to say he was doing well; might have some trouble with balance and walking, but he was 'well'.
There was Joy.
When we got to see him and his suffering was more than I could bear and watching the nurse doing whatever we asked to ease his pain.
There was Joy.
Not the kind of joy that makes you jump up and down, like you won the lottery, but a deep gratitude for small mercies.
When after a brutal night of inadequate pain meds, the medical team stepped in to alleviate his pain and he slept, the nurse clapped her hands and jumped up and down-for Joy.
When he got up and walked, albeit wobbly 2 days after the surgery.
There was Joy.
Joy is different than happiness although they are closely related. Joy contains an aspect of happiness, but it is deeper rooted, rooted in the good earthy, visceral goodness that is available to all of us despite tragedy and pain.
It's the hand on your shoulder that says I'm here with you. It's the fruit that your friend brings and when you put it in your mouth you feel a burst of delight. It doesn't fix things or change the fact that you ate it as you held your hospitalized loved ones hand, but it is the juice that keeps us moving on the hardest of days and we miss out on it if we aren't present to its fleeting touch.
There was joy watching him navigate stairs and doing it without the help of a cane that was needed earlier. There is pain in healing and so much joy in the little miracles along the way.
One year has passed, since this ride began, since the day that scarred not only him, but all of us in a way. There has been Joy on this roller coasting ride that was more profoundly and deeply felt than I've never known. I would not ask for suffering like that again, but if I do, I trust that Joy will be there to give me enough of its elixir to keep moving and trusting, even on the most difficult of days.
Joy is not the absence of pain-there will always be pain and stress. Joy becomes more readily available when we lean into the pain, feeling all that we feel. Pain, when we wrestle with it and feel all that it brings, burrows valleys in our heart; deep crevices that are capable of producing wellsprings of joy. When we avoid or numb out pain we also numb out the space for the emotions we long for. In a way pain can serve us as it carves out more room for Joy.
Joy-It's not here just for me or for a fortunate few. It's here for you too. The world is hungry for more of it and it is available for all of us. It may be lingering in the corners of our lives but its there. It requires presence and gratitude to lock it in more deeply.
Joy may be all we have to inject the wee bit of strength we need to keep moving forward. My wish for you today and everyday is that you would see it, feel it and know it and that somehow the miracle of Joy would light your path on the darkest of days.