Waves of various emotions sweep over me so much of the time since my son Christopher’s traumatic brain injury two years ago. You would think I’m the one who endures neuro-storming.
Holidays are supposed to be occasions for great joy and bliss. But they can often be letdowns for sorrow and the blues—at least in my case. So, I need to look for moments and occasions for joy and cherish them whenever and wherever I can find them. They are priceless, rare jewels.
My friend, Kelsie Johns, thoughtfully and aptly wrote about this same theme in a recent post at Facebook. Kelsi writes about what she and her daughter Ayda face at the holidays:
The holidays are so weird. For those of you who have a family that is fragmented/divorced/separated/what have you, I know it’s particularly exhausting. It’s like I’m setting out for a lonely battle in a ruthless blizzard every time the holidays begin. I know I’m not alone in this. I still smile, I still wear a bright red sweater, I still put on red lipstick, sure. But inside, it’s a battle waged. I’ve learned I must plan ahead for me and Ayda: stay busy, get tickets, plan outings. So then, even on a particularly hard day or week, we have plans. And then when slivers of joy and light break in as they invariably do on their own accord, I cling to and bask in them even more because I understand these things—moments of light and joy, time with family however that looks, are not a given, not to be taken for granted. Anyway, if “you’re not alone in the holiday struggle” resonates with you more than “happy holidays” then here it is. And here’s to a new year where we get to decide what memories to make and share, and for me, a perfect family photo under an oak tree ain’t it.
I can really relate to what Kelsi wrote. I especially take to heart the lines: “And then when slivers of joy and light break in as they invariably do on their own accord, I cling to and bask in them even more because I understand these things—moments of light and joy, time with family however that looks, are not a given, not to be taken for granted.” Where do I find such joy that I dare not take for granted? It is not in some big gathering, but in intimate settings involving special relationships, such as being at Christopher’s bedside, or playing with his daughter Jaylah.
Friend and author Sallie Tisdale highlighted this point when she wrote a while ago, “I hope your family is holding together and that your granddaughter brings you joy.” Christopher and Keyonna’s daughter Jaylah does indeed bring me joy—a lot of it!
If you look up the meaning of Jaylah, you might find “ascend” or “victory” or “happy.” No doubt, that is all true, and true of Jaylah so much of the time. But I think the “J” in Jaylah stands for “joy.” She is a bundle of it. I cherish moments with her.
Yesterday was no exception. One of the Christmas gifts we had given her was a children’s book featuring the story of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute. You could press buttons to hear brief recordings of the opera on many pages. Jaylah loves to dance, and she directs me to dance with her. Like many children, she has a great imagination. She and I redid the script of the opera so that it would accompany the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (in place of the libretto created by Mozart’s colleague Emanuel Schikaneder and featuring Princess Pamina as well as Prince Tamino, who was chased by a great monster). Jaylah was Little Red Riding Hood. Do you want to guess who I was?
I was supposed to chase my granddaughter, growling all the way, and she would push the music buttons in the book just before I could get to her. This particular big bad wolf that we concocted supposedly loves Mozart. And so, the wolf would stop and do a jig befitting the opera segment playing at that moment. This exercise in joyful futility went on for some time. I was exhausted when we finished, but it was exhilarating all the same.
The joy of that occasion lasted long after Jaylah went home. I wanted to capture the moment and so I turned to Facebook to mark the memory. Here’s what I wrote on my Facebook wall last night:
Sometimes you just can’t break free of typecast roles and stereotypes. For example, I implored my granddaughter Jaylah as I was taking her home to Mommy tonight to let me be Little Red Riding Hood next week. She insisted that she would play that role again. So I asked her, “And what will I be?” Her response: “The Big Bad Wolf”—again. I just hope it does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I love Jaylah’s spunk, her creativity, her boundless energy. Jaylah keeps ascending, just like her name means. She experiences victory amid tragedy and brings happiness and joy to so many people, even big bad wolves like me.
But Jaylah also experiences deep sorrow. Yesterday was no exception as she started talking about her daddy spontaneously at one point in the conversation. I try to comfort her in those moments of descent, which are no doubt awakenings of pain and loss far below the conscious surface. How she deeply loves her father, just as I know he deeply loves her. The brain damage cannot tear one’s heart away or a daddy and his girl apart. What tears and tugs at my heart are statements my granddaughter makes like, “I want to give Daddy a banana to eat so he will feel better.” Such words melt away this big bad wolf’s tough countenance.
Unlike The Magic Flute, life is not a fairy tale. But like The Magic Flute, life is an opera or play. No wonder then that this “sublime fairy tale … moves freely between earthy comedy and noble mysticism,” according to The Metropolitan Opera. As intended, it appeals to people “from all walks of life” and those experiencing a wide range of emotions. Its “song-play” format is ideally suited for “navigating the diverse moods, ranging from solemn to lighthearted.”
We need to look for joy and cherish it on holidays and ordinary days. Cling to and bask in those “slivers of joy and light” so that sorrow does not overwhelm us. And during those times when joy is hard to find, return to those special memories and look for occasions when joy might suddenly make its appearance again. Such memories and mindfulness to experience bright joy anew is like Mozart’s magic flute that helps us overcome the darkness, hardships, and trials so we might find our way forward in the world. Only then do our holiday blues give way to cherished keepsake moments of bliss.