Joy is a choice


This morning I watched the sunrise through a thicket of winter branches stretching towards and away from each other framing the backdrop of celestial colors like a glorious stained glass window, except alive. I noticed as I looked east where those colors emerged over the curve as they spread across the sky, painting the bottom of the wispy clouds along the way. I thought of poetry first, and then science. I thought of the bending light, the finite explanations of the dawning beauty before me, then, I chose poetry.

While my mother was in hospice the last week of her life, the nurse instructed us to speak to her; to whisper our sweet goodbyes into her ears. She assured us that our mother could hear every word. Our sorrows welcomed this idea; the last chances of communication softening our grief. I had given my mother a handmade necklace with small bells on a long satin cord. She asked me for it, right off my neck one day when I was visiting weeks earlier. She wanted to think of me when those bells chimed, when she was moved from left side to right side, from wall to window view. I carry those with me now, when I have a difficult journey. She also came to the 2016 Women’s March with me and many marches after that. The cord is now broken so I carry pieces of the necklace in a small satin drawstring bag. She came with me, because I decided that the ringing of those bells was her presence. I chose poetry.

Last month, the Saturday before Christmas, I found myself sitting in a Hospice unit again, at my sister Shannon’s bedside, the small satin bag in my pocket. We were not typical sisters, if there is any such thing. No Hallmark card was available to describe the complications our relationship faced. When I walked in the room, Shannon had a one on one nurse’s aide because she was so agitated that she kept falling out of bed. She did not seem aware of where she was, or that I was there. I sat at her bedside and pulled my phone out to play a recording of my son singing, Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Henry had mixed all the harmonies and it was beautiful. My sister’s body began to calm down and after a few playings of the song she fell asleep, breathing long calm breaths. The aide told me that she had never seen her so calm, and I chose to believe her, partly thinking she had been trained well. I whispered sweet nothings into her ear. I began to say goodbye with statements I had no existing faith to back up. I told her that we come from goodness and return to goodness. I reminded her of who she would be reunited with, and that they would all be waiting for her. Our mother and father, grandparents, and past friends would be there, welcoming her through the light. It seemed like a fairytale to me, but I just kept saying it. As I thought of all kinds of ways to reassure my sister and wish her a happy journey, I realized I was going on my own journey; and either I began to believe some of the things I was saying or I just chose to. I don’t know about meeting everyone again, but coming from goodness and returning to goodness is something that I now choose to believe. A gift my sister could never know she gave me; or maybe she does. I can choose to believe that. I can choose poetry over science.

I am practicing waking up early to watch the dawning, the rosy fingers, the beginning of a new day. I sit with a warm cup of coffee and watch as we spin towards light. The daily phenomenon explained by science and embraced by poetry. The endless sky reminding me of how much more there is above the turbulence of our days. Everyday we can make the choice to live joyfully. I choose joy.

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