As I enter my seventh year of widowhood, I am trying to reflect honestly on my creative work in the same ways that I’ve tried to be honest through that work. It’s no picnic coming face-to-face with loss, grief, rage, bisexuality, parenting failures, social catastrophes, crippling guilt and depression, all while pursuing a non-clichéd style of prose and a few good laugh lines (have I mentioned that I miss writing sketch comedy?), but I’m proud that I’ve given it my best shot. So what’s left to examine unsparingly? That whole unsparing examination thing is kind of my jam these days.
Here’s a weird one—joy.
The other evening I said goodnight to my coworkers and commuted home. Hardly a remarkable event, but I realized (in real time no less!) it was a joyous one.
My coworkers are awesome. After years of demeaning and diminishing day jobs I am finally working for people who are kind and brave and who treat me, their administrative assistant, like a colleague. I love the beautiful campus where I spend my days. In fact, years ago I lived nearby and used to walk past it and think how nice it would be to work someplace so lovely. I love that there’s a gym two floors up from my office and that I’m keeping my New Year’s resolution to take my lunch break and exercise. Joy.
I love picking up my kid. I always bring him a treat from the candy bowl on my desk and he delightfully parses the properties of a butterscotch disc or a root beer barrel as he holds my hand or puts his arm around my shoulders. He is excited to tell me his good news or eager to seek comfort if he’s had a bad day. We are happy to see each other. Joy.
I enjoy cooking dinner. It’s something I’ve worked hard to get good at and I’m proud to serve and partake of healthy delicious food. Joy.
I adore my partner. He truly does God’s work—every day he helps children who have been abused in ways I cannot even think about. He does this every single day and still comes home ready to enjoy a good meal, a nice evening, a long talk, a romantic interlude, a great book, a deep-dive documentary, a game of chess, a belly laugh. Joy.
Maybe I’ll call a friend. Can you believe that I am still best friends with the people I met my first week at college or that I am still close with the roommate I had when I was 25? My dearest creative collaborators and I still brainstorm new projects and call each other “wifey.” I love and am loved by a host of childhood companions and other mommies from the neighborhood. Maybe I call my brother or sister. My people. I have people. Joy.
Maybe my partner and I will make love and then drift off to sleep after figuring out which one of us will get up first and make the coffee in the morning while the other lies in bed cursing the cat who meows in our faces for her A.M. treat. Joy.
In the morning I will sip strong coffee from the mug my son gave me for my birthday and stretch my aging body, which is in pretty damn good shape for 52, and get dressed and do it all again. Joy.
Do I have everything I want? Nope. Not at all. Do I wish I didn’t need a day job? That I’d had more success as an actress, writer, Shakespeare teacher? Yup. Do I worry about money? Constantly. Do I want more people–many more people to read my stuff, produce my stuff, watch my stuff, take me seriously as an artist? Sweet Mother Mary, YES I do.
Do I wish Hillary had won? Do I even need to answer that?
Do I wish my wife hadn’t died? Always. I will always wish this.
Yet there is joy.
It’s amazing that, for me anyway, it’s not hard to feel joy, but it often seems impossible to accept that feeling as right and good—to be okay with the bliss of being alive when she is no longer here to share it with me. While basking in the warmth of our little family I will ache for the little family I thought I would have when she and I had our child together. While relishing the taste of blueberries or the sound of Joni Mitchell, the feel of the cat’s fur and the smell of our son’s freshly-washed hair, the transubstantial experience of yoga and orgasm (usually not at the same time!), it’s heartrending to remember that she will never have these things again. And it’s devastatingly ironic because she’s the one who first taught me the value of simple, quotidian pleasure.
Yet joy is here. It is real. Joy is within and without each and every one of us, even in times of grief, in conditions of despair. Joy is the eye in the hurricane of pain.
My partner, that wonderful person I come home to every night, often posits that happiness is a continual dialogue with reality. This doesn’t mean we give up trying to make our reality better, but we must accept the fact of it.
We must accept the reality of joy. We, the living, those who have lost those who’ve left us–we must accept ourselves as living creatures capable of gladness, of ecstasy, of peace.
Our joy may not always exceed our grief, but it is forever as real.