Just a few days before Axel died Randy and I were on a date. As usual we took time to discuss and reflect on life. Basically the conversation could be summed up as, life is good. Things were not perfect but we had a stable life with major flexibility and two amazing boys. Our conversation included how much joy Axel brought to our lives, how he really helped Kalden grow up, be more responsible, and how much fun the two of them were starting to have as brothers.
And then Axel was gone and I thought, “I’m never going to be able to say life is good again.” How could life ever be good, happy and fulfilled with a piece of our family gone. When I lost my job a few months later there went our financial stability.
I now realize there is a huge difference between being happy and cultivating joy. Think of the ‘Life is Good’ brand of t-shirts. The stick people are always happy because of their circumstance. They are out biking, hiking, in a Jeep, with their dog etc…But take away the happy circumstance and you take away the happiness.
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” ~Joseph Campbell
I don’t wish for happiness anymore – those days are behind me. I do wish for courage, strength, gratitude, joy and a daily dose of laughter. Joy comes from deep within and can withstand circumstances. The Greeks say that the opposite of joy is not sadness but fear. Sure I want to have happy moments but more than anything I want to live from a place of gratitude that brings me joy.
What does that look like? I’m still learning but the other day on a bike ride I stopped to take in the beauty of the La Sal mountains, the red rocks of Moab, the sight of Randy and Kalden riding down the trail, and the baby in my stomach along for the ride. An ordinary moment but I felt an intense feeling of gratitude and joy.
In a traditional sense I don’t always have a lot to be happy about these days. And I’m okay with that. What I realized from losing Axel is that joy is made from ordinary moments that make exceptional memories. I’m grateful that we had many hours and days together as a family in Axel’s two short years. Yes, two years were not enough and he died senselessly but I can’t change that.
To be strong and continue cultivating joy and gratitude I focus only on the parts of suffering that are necessary for me to grow.
“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” ~Anne Morrow Lindburgh