camino de santiago, grief, Joy, Kate Bowler, sabbatical

Unlikely Companions


I couldn’t have said this a year ago, but after paying close attention to my grief – not rushing through but really sitting with it – I’ve discovered that my capacity for joy has increased. I notice the little things. I find excitement in mundane tasks. Joy seems to be more present.

Last week I listened to Kate Bowler’s podcast Everything Happens. She was talking with Margaret Feinberg who had dealt with a cancer diagnosis at a young age, like Kate. Margaret said something that made me pause the podcast, open my Notes app, play, listen, pause, type and repeat until I got it right:

“Before that I never understood the connection between joy and grief. When you learn to grieve well you expand your bandwidth for joy.”

It’s so true. These unlikely companions, ones often claimed to be opposites, are more alike than we recognize. Grief and joy live together, I suspect. They hold each other up. They sit with one another. They listen. They are present.

I did not want to sit with my grief. Not the grief that came with my infertility news. There was grief before that. Grief about my job and relationships. Grief about knowing it was time to make a change but not having the strength to do it. My sabbatical started out in a place of grief, whether I realized it or not. And, I did not want to sit with that grief.

I made plans and lists and schedules. I planted bulbs and read books and wrote blogs and made quilts. I went on trips and checked off my to-do list. Sitting with this unidentified, yet fully present, grief was not part of the plan.

And then. Then I was told conception was not likely and I felt my whole life fall apart around me. Grief sat down next to me, much closer this time. I had no choice. I couldn’t ignore her.

Over the last year and a half I’ve worked through my grief on many different levels – my body, my future, my relationships, my career. I’ve written about many of these, I’ve spoken about all of them. I’ve let the grief be part of my life. And in doing so, I’ve felt my heart open wider.

Joy isn’t about smiling all the time. Joy is a state of being, a way of being present in the world. Joy is about awe and paying attention and gratitude. As I’ve faced grief head on, I’ve also found myself living with joy.

This morning I saw the thumbnail of the moon peak out behind the clouds. I wondered who else saw that exact vision – I wondered if that was just for me. I said to myself out loud, “Wow!” I do that more now – I speak my joy. Not just internally but out loud for myself, my dog, passersby to hear.

I often listen to this song on the way to work (Give Thanks by India Arie)

“Give thanks. Give thanks. Give thanks. Give thanks for all that is.
Give praise. Give praise. Give praise. Give praise for all that is.
There will never, ever be another day just like this day so let’s give praise now.”

I sing these words with a heart full of grief and joy. Sometimes one, or both, leak out through my eyes.

I sing these words as a reminder to pay attention today. I sing these words as a reminder that this is the only day I get. I sing these words as a reminder that everything is a gift. Everything.

If I got pregnant like we had hoped, I probably wouldn’t have changed jobs. I love my new job. I wouldn’t have imagined something new for myself without the grief.

My love for this job doesn’t diminish what I had at the old one. Joy is part of the remembering. My love for this job also doesn’t take away the pain of infertility. Grief remains present in the joy.

If I got pregnant like we had hoped, I wouldn’t be going to Spain this summer to walk 150 miles with my mom. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My body will carry me all those miles. The same body that let me down. Grief and joy, all rolled into one.

Grief allows me to soak in the sunshine a little bit more. Joy allows me to appreciate the new morning darkness knowing the light will be back soon. Grief opens my heart to be empathetic to others who grieve. Joy opens my heart to celebrate authentically. Grief and joy. I never would have imagined these two companions being so intricately interwoven in my life.

We will continue walking and writing and reading and crying and laughing and running and traveling and celebrating and resting together. They come as a pair and I accept them that way. They are my friends now and forever.



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