catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 16 :: 2009.07.31 — 2009.09.03


Summer came early

A Birthday
by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

My heart is like a singing bird
   Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
   Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
   That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
   Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
   Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
   And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
   In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
   Is come, my love is come to me.

These past weeks, joy has been a distant memory.  I had forgotten it.  A dear friend died on her birthday in June.  Two days later, a friend’s sister became ill and died.  The following week another friend’s brother-in-law died very suddenly and the family is shattered.  On Friday, a neighbour died unexpectedly and then a priest in the parish.  As I have aged, but not feeling in the least older, I am trying to equip myself for this earthly journey and the destination that awaits me.  Will joy await me?  I hope so, along with the welcome.

Special occasions such as marriage, birth, reunions and the magnificence of nature remind us of joyful times past.  When I was younger I never realized the importance of the moment, the day, life in the making.  Often these predictably dull days had the potential of being turned into interesting experiences, not only for self but others also.  There was a greater treasure.  Much later, I could revisit the experiences through memory and enjoy them all over again. The more we are able to enjoy life, I do believe that our sensitivities become more finely tuned, ready and open to recognize joy.

Life’s experiences may weary us to such a degree that joy, and delights in general, are forgotten.  As L.P. Hartley writes in The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Hope, happiness, joy belong in a foreign country too when suffering causes us to travel in tough terrain.  We become separated from them and forget them.  It is helpful to remember that living is about journey and relationships, experiences we meet along the way.  It would be arrogant to say that pain always heals, but mostly it does become manageable.  For many, prayer and the prayers of the faithful become a solace.  Solace helps with healing and that in turn begets strength.  In all of these steps, there is the power of grace and through it we begin to notice small mercies.  Someone being helpful perhaps, enjoying a sandwich, the first sign of spring and longer evenings.  Grace at work.  Why didn’t I know that back then?  I do rejoice that I know it now.

In our ordinary lives, some of us work hard: recover from illness or learn how to manage it; get over divorce, redundancy; come to terms with unemployment or reassemble a life in a new place.  In the twenty-first century, most people are busy being busy.  Celebrations are usually built around achievement of some sort, but we are free to indulge when it comes to simple things, too.  An effort made in dressing the table for a meal, making time for someone or even a phone call may well bestow joy on another.  It may not be our intention at the time and the effect may surprise us, for we too become embraced by this joy in the process.

Looking back on joyful moments, I remember one golden April day in 1995 when my children were young adults.  The years before had been traumatic; surviving illness, difficult teenage years and times in the wilderness.  That Easter was a really joyful time.  As a family we felt united and resurrected.  Summer came early, as bonus after bonus of blessings flowed.  I stood at the kitchen window and watched my children laughing and chatting in the garden.  We were found.   It has remained one of the most joyful moments of my life.

Wandering home from town on Friday, a miserable day of rain, we bumped into some people we know. Con, Pat and Marie were on their way home from their usual afternoon in the pub, where they make frequent dashes to the door to have a quick puff of their cigarettes and back again to finish their pints.  They’re always friendly and charming and so it was on Friday.  We live different lives but their warm response on meeting us, their jokes and stories cheered us and there we stood in the rain celebrating life in the passing and the making; in the ordinary.  They made our day.

Whether we believe in it or not, joy exists.  It is waiting for us.  We can claim it for ourselves and share it with others.  Recognizing grace is a necessary tool in my view.  To those who have forgotten joy I say that, like the spring, it will come again.  You will know it this side of the grave or the next.  

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