When Joy and Grief Cohabit

 

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I was telling a friend about a fresh grief, one with, potentially, a long shelf-life. About gripping tighter to joy. How joy and grief were now roommates in my soul. They share the same space, and even cross over the boundaries I’ve drawn for them.

I’ll never forget Josh and Katie’s wedding two days ago…how the beautiful and broken bits of life mingled.

The gnawing absence was Katie’s adored dad, who died two years ago. A loss most conspicuous those two minutes when the bride (usually) walks down the aisle holding her father’s arm.  Katie had no suitable substitute. Their solution to this dilemma was brilliant and heart-breaking.

Josh and Pastor Scott took their position at the front and the attendants walked forward. When the bride’s processional music began, Katie waited alone at the entrance. Josh picked up two red roses and approached Katie. Beside her was a table with a framed picture of her dad, his sweat-stained hat (which remarkably had her new last name on it), flowers and other reminders of his life.

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Josh and Katie placed their roses before her father’s photo and took a moment to silently acknowledge his contribution to their joy and the gap of his absence. Then Josh offered his arm and escorted his wife-to-be to the ceremony.

Joy and grief sharing every step.

Katie’s face was wistful, Josh’s somber.

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I loved the respect they showed in acknowledging her dad. How they faced the pain together. How their joy came in the mourning.

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A Scrabble Proposal

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By David Harper

I was struggling to find a text that would fit Margaret. My wife read this to me and I’d like to read it to you. Now the Proverbs are difficult, sometimes, to understand. I’ll give you my take on this particular verse.

All the days of the afflicted are hard,
but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Proverbs 15:15

You’ve already heard that Harpers like food…and you can tell! But, I think that the contrast here, as it ought to be interpreted, is the contrast of the afflicted in their person, in their soul.

I’m going to apply it to Margaret. She was afflicted and endured many days of difficulty. Difficulty that I don’t know anything about, and most of us don’t. She endured a lot of affliction in her person, but not in her soul. She was a cheerful person. I don’t think I ever heard her complain. She was a joyful person.

I remember when she came out to visit us, she had just graduated [from college] and it was December. She came out to Johnstown and I had gone over to pick her up. She had headaches then. She came to our house, and her headaches were so bad she was continually throwing up. It was that tough.

We didn’t know what to do. So, we took her to our family doctor who was on vacation; he had a substitute who couldn’t get rid of her fast enough. He thought it was bad, and it was. She went to a neurosurgeon in Altoona. He didn’t have any ability or didn’t think he could do anything about it.

So we took her to Pittsburgh to Montefiore Hospital. She was still in pain and they were arguing, as neurosurgeons and neurologists do. Arguing about what kind of tack to go with her. They couldn’t decide because they didn’t know what was going on.

The thing that gave her relief was a spinal tap to take fluid off her spine. It gave her relief for a day or two then they would have to do it again. The rest is the long struggle that she went through. She was afflicted, but I never saw her without a smile on her face.  Even when she was in that kind of pain, I still remember that.

But, she is now with the Lord and none of us would want her back. Well, maybe John would. But I think we all realize she is far better off now.

One of the things we did as a family —the John Harper family is large, in more than one way— as we grew up, part of our time was [living] out in the country. Dorothy, Margaret, and I went to the old Bogan School. That school was a two-room school house with four grades. Did you go too, John? It was a tough go. It was five miles from our house (or so it seemed) and it was uphill both ways.  It was hard! We went to this little schoolhouse and I just think about my mother who for three-and-half-years raised seven contentious children [alone].

Then we went to Bair Lake [Bible Camp] in the summertime, most likely because it was free room and board for seven kids. My dad was the manager of the camp and that’s where we got to know a lot of friends. We were there every summer and enjoyed it. Love for camp came from those days. Even when I was in high school we would go from Chicago back to Bair Lake. When I was in college we would do the same thing: go on weekends. And build things and do things. It was something I really enjoyed and I think all our family did.

One thing I want to remind all of us here, was one of those situations that was not dealt with happily by my sister. One of the services she performed for us brothers: more than once her girlfriends became our girlfriends. She was just a bit miffed about it. I remember that. It didn’t take except for Dan. That worked well. Real well.

One of the things I especially appreciated about Margaret was her happy spirit and this verse reflected that.

She loved food. We all loved food. But she couldn’t really appreciate the other senses of life. Walking around. Getting up. I sit for a while and I get kind of sore. And I think Margaret must have gotten a lot of soreness, too. And I appreciate what she went through to the limit and extent that I can.

I want to tell you about a time that Margaret was in Grand Rapids and was in the hospital. She had just had a number of mini-seizures and she was flat on her back.  I came in to visit her. I’m talking to her. She’s still her joyful and smiling person. Then she told me this thing that stunned me. She told me about this guy, John Walker, who had just asked her to marry him.

I said, really?

Yeah, but I am going to tell him no. (I don’t think she actually told him no, but she was planning on telling him no.)

He deserves far better than me, she said. Of course they became good friends, not only at River Forest, but playing Scrabble. (She could beat me. Whupped me.)

I said, Well, why would you say no?

I can’t give him children. He deserves far better than me. Look at me! I can’t do anything.

Margaret, it’s very clear that John loves you. He doesn’t love your body, he loves you as a person. And if I were you, I would get on the phone and say yes.

The way it turned out is that in Scrabble ‘YES’ is more points than ‘NO’. So Margaret said, I’m going for the big word!

As far as our family is concerned, John is a prince. I could not do what John has done. Over twenty-one years. Truly remarkable. And we thank the Lord for you, John.

Come Rain or Come Shine, The Book

I once prayed, Lord, please let Jan Karon live long enough to get Dooley and Lace married. The answer to that prayer was a whelming flood; I started crying on page 32 and sniffed and sobbed my way—punctuated by laughs—to the final page. Redemption, benediction, healing, holy amazement, connection. Reading this brings the satisfaction of resolution, the “two bits” after the “shave and a haircut”.

Weddings are my thing. Joyful solemnity, giving, sharing, joining, celebrating, laughing, crying, hugging, singing, dancing, rejoicing, thanksgiving. I love a good wedding and I’ve been to a few profoundly remarkable ones.

There was joy in the air; you could sniff it as plain as new-cut hay.

The focus of Come Rain or Come Shineis on the month before and the day of The Big Knot. Dooley and Lace want a small, intimate ceremony at Meadowgate Farm. Karon enjoys poking fun at the myth of a ‘simple country wedding.’  There are obstacles and annoyances. There are secrets and surprises. There is the unrelenting pressure of diminishing time to get the place wedding-ready.

DSC_0964The main character is Lace Harper. Her journals reveal her heart, her hopes, her fears, her loves. She wants to find a wedding dress for under $100; she is thankful for the callouses which document her hard work. She wants to get it—this whole starting a new family—right. I appreciated the ways Dooley and Lace honor the memory of Sadie Baxter (benefactor) and Russell Jacks (Dooley’s grandpa) in their wedding. Fun stuff: there is a Pinterest page for Lace Harper’s wedding!

Jan Karon and Wendell Berry are both skilled at portraying a community where giving, helping, and reciprocating are the norm. In their novels they don’t cover up the hurts, the anger, the tensions, the troubles. Weddings can be awkward with family drama. Karon handles the presence of Dooley’s birth mom, Pauline Leeper, in the same room as his siblings with utmost care. There is no easy resolution, no instant reconciliation, just baby steps, tiny beginnings towards the on-ramp to healing.

I connected with this book in many ways. This summer we went to a small, simple country wedding (see picture above) in a pasture. My son and daughter-in-law have a wind storm and fallen trees in their wedding story, too. I know what it is to be gob-smacked by blessings, reduced to silent tears of joy. Live music is the best for dancing the night away. I love the song in the title.

‘Why can’t life always be lived under the stars,’ she said, ‘with great music and family and friends?’

♪♫♪ Come Rain or Come Shine ♪♫♪ is a standard (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics Johnny Mercer) that has been covered by scores of recording artists. I used it ten years ago when I made a PowerPoint slideshow for Curt’s folks’ 50th wedding anniversary. In the course of my work, I listened to B.B. King and Eric Clapton on endless repetition. And I can honestly say, I never tired of it. But there are so many recordings of this song, that I put my listening of them in this post.

This book.

I finished it last night. I started it again this morning.

Winter Watch

I’m a fan of cozy mysteries. Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael, Mma Ramotswe, Alan Grant, and Flavia de Luce are guaranteed to bring pleasure. Especially if they are read with a steaming pot of tea while sitting on a leather couch with a fire snapping close by.

In Winter Watch, Anita Klumpers has written what I call a cozy-eccentric book. Barley, Wisconsin, is a isolated northern burg where the Justice of the Peace is also the dog catcher and where a few crazies reside. Bernice, a miscreant referred to as the resident killer, is the battiest of them all. After a family member dies, Bernice gets meals and kindness and concerns. And wouldn’t you know, she likes the perks of grief. More relatives mysteriously die. Sympathy can be mighty addicting.

Like Alexander McCall Smith, Klumper weaves humor into the warp and woof of her prose. Blizzards are snowstorms with enthusiasm. A woman was proud to give her son a Biblical name—Tubal—until the nurse told her it sounded like a female medical procedure.

DSC_7902There is comfort—I like a woman who knows her way around an egg—and a passage about joy that is flat out lyrical.

Joy arrived unbidden and unpredicted to pour from heart to fingertips to toes. She held her breath, everytime, to preserve and examine it but it forever danced just out of her grasp and slipped away. Claudia stayed still, focusing, her heart ready to burst. At the last crucial second joy seeped through cracks and crevices of her being until her every extremity and pore rejoiced before the evaporation worked backwards and she sat in the afterglow.

The focal point of the narrative centers on an old watch. The prologue and epilogue added more layers of history regarding the watch. The story line had me eagerly turning the page, and a bit annoyed with life’s beckoning demands when I needed to put the book down.

In short, this is a satisfying and entertaining read.

15 New Words

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In writing I am seduced by the sound of words and by the interaction of their sound and sense.

— Barbara Tuchman in Practicing History

I read all books—even borrowed ones—with a soft-leaded pencil in my hand. When I come across a word I don’t know I put a √ in the margin. When I copy quotes into my journal, I add the words I’ve learned. I also add to my collection of be– words (beguiled, bewhiskered, betake, etc.), but that’s a story for another day.

Here are a few of my favorite 2013 additions to my treasure chest of words:

taradiddles — lies
shrammed — benumbed with cold
virago — loud, overbearing woman

flibbertigibbet — silly, flighty person
semaphores — visual signaling with flags or light
boulevardier — man who strolls on Paris boulevard

billyho — unimaginable large amount
fortnight — contraction for “fourteen nights”
carnival = carne vale = goodbye meat

aptronymic — suitably named
debouched — to cause to emerge
snuggery — a snug, cozy place

smeddum — spirit, energy, determination
plaint — expression of grief
puling — whining, whimpering, crying plaintively

Song of Joy and Strength

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Creation begins with song. We know this because God asks Job where he was when God laid the foundations of the earth, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

Singing and joy go together like champagne and bubbles: they are linked in God’s Word, in our response, and particularly in your life, Joy.

Marriage is a song.

Sometimes you will sing in unison, one voice high and one low. Other times you will sing in two-part harmony. The fugue employs different voices expressing the same theme in succession, weaving in and out, finally coming together at the end.

When quarrels come there will be discordant notes, squawks, squeaks and growls. As your arguments mature, they will sound less like a cat landing on a keyboard and more like two strong notes pushing together for resolution. A song without tension would be bland, and ultimately difficult to listen to. Some marriages avoid conflict, moving apart into parallel melodies that aren’t related. The tension of sustained chords comes when notes are close together.  Tension is not bad unless it is unresolved. Think of a four-part Amen, stopping on the AH–.

The time signature determines the rhythm. One of you can’t play a waltz (3/4 time) while the other is marching to the 4/4 beat.  Curt and I tried that this summer: it led to hiccups, glitches and confusion. Follow Stephen’s lead, secure in the knowledge that different seasons of life will bring new rhythms.

You are starting your life together in a major key. Your wedding will be a minuet: a bright and cheerful celebration. But, in your life, minor keys will come; grief is a part of all of our lives. Your song can reflect glory in both major and minor keys.  Accept the minor key seasons as a gift.

In one of Anthony Trollope’s books, a wife obeys every word her husband says with a treasonous attitude. He is a piece of work, but that’s not the point. She is icy, remote, but, in her mind correct and proper. This illustrates how vital our tone is. Timbre is the musical term for tone color. When Stephen tells you something, you respond “You did?” The tone of these words could communicate scorn, apathy, delight, or shock. May the tone of your marriage be as rich and warm as a cello or a saxophone.

Beautiful music requires practice, discipline and work. When you run across a glitch in a musical piece, you know that is where you need to slow down, understand the notes and repeat it again and again and again and again! There’s not much glamor in practice, but faithful diligence brings rewards.

Do you remember the flash mob videos in a shopping mall? It is always a delight to see a bystander perk up her ears, look around in wonderment and then settle in with a smile to see what happens. People stop talking, they stop walking, they stop shopping and they watch and listen. This is what your marriage will do when you are singing in tune, making a harmonious sound.  Your song will invite others to the Music.

I began with the pairing of singing and joy. Singing and strength is another common coupling. In some cultures, singing is a necessary component of work. Think the chain gangs in O, Brother Where Art Thou?, slave ships, cotton fields. Singing keeps you in sync, it helps you work harder than you thought possible. In Estonia the folk songs liberated the country from communism. Song brings the strength of unity.

Joy, everyone agrees that you are perfectly named. And, your new last name reflects joy and strength.

Song is powerful. It reaches into the nooks and crannies of our souls. It fortifies us; it loosens us up.  It bedazzles our senses; it thrills our spirit; it expresses our worship.
It changes us.

 ~ The Lord is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation. ~