As I drove home after dropping my father off at his house after our week’s vacation, I was singing along to the radio and felt so happy, tears sprang to my eyes and I thought ‘Wow, I’m crying tears of happiness!’ I came home and relaxed in bed, reveling in the week of joy from a roadtrip with my dad and my three year-old son, Alistair.
Alistair and my husband, reunited after seven days, were out playing. They came to wake me up and I smiled at the joy on Alistair’s face, reflected in my own soul.
Then my husband, Alex, came over and gently told me he’d taken a few phone calls in the past hour.
My dad arrived home to find his beloved cat Curious dead under the couch.
My mom, living in a group home due to bipolar disorder, had set her bedroom on fire and had to be dragged out in an apparent suicide attempt. She was back in the mental health ward.
All of a sudden I was crying again, but the anguish felt out of proportion. More severe. Cats die all the time. People lose pets. My mom has been involved in episodes like this in the past. Pull yourself together, Alana! But I cried and cried, and it all felt so cruel.
How had I been so incredibly happy just hours before?
Our vacation wasn’t perfect. It started with a banking mistake leading to a gracious bail out by Alex (thanks, honey). My mobile phone broke, our day in Boulder consisted mostly of rain, and we left Alistair’s traveling tablet in a South Dakota hotel. Oops.
But these things didn’t phase me much at all, because the rest of the vacation felt….perfect. The mountains rejuvenated me, experiencing the joy of a road trip through my son’s eyes was magical, and the quality time with he and my dad made every wee pit stop an adventure. Theme parks, national monuments, friends, spontaneous stops in America’s heartland.
Joy, and a crash back to reality .
The post-vacation blues are nothing new to me; I always get them. I’m a wanderer, and feel best seeking novelty and experience. Going home is always a let down to my traveler’s spirit.
But this felt stronger, no doubt due to the nature of the bad news I received.
I almost didn’t want to let myself feel my mom’s sorrow. I usually take it on right away, anguish at what she must have been feeling. What she is feeling in the hospital. How unfair mental illness is. How it’s robbed she and my dad, my husband and I of a normal life. I cried, but I tried to avoid taking on the pain. I didn’t want it. I wanted the joy. But I couldn’t find it.
I kept thinking of my dad, walking in to see his beloved cats and finding one dead. Curious, who moved up with him to North Dakota from Colorado. Curious, the rescue, the recluse, but one of my dad’s companions. I tried not to think of it too much. I just let myself cry and then I went to the gym, where I cried some more to my friend.
I avoided praying. I always do when things get rough. I was full of praise to God for the amazing experience of the road trip earlier, but nothing came to me later today.
I watched my husband’s own reaction to the events. Although he did everything right taking care of our dad’s cats, his sadness was overwhelming him (from my perspective). What was meant to be a joyful reunion with his wife and son, stolen from him.
But that’s the thing.
Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. There isn’t joy without sorrow, as everyone says. But it’s true. Today I felt both, and the juxtaposition has never felt more real. The pendulum of events…with little control over one end.
This is all just personal to my own experience….something no one but me can fully appreciate. But as our tumultuous world turns, one doesn’t have to look far to know the peaks and troughs everyone faces. Death, murder, divorce, illness. Every day people are experiencing sadness far worse than my bad day.
Which is why I feel compelled to experience joy even more. And spread the word, to anyone who reads this, to seek joy as well. And make sure to help create joy for others. One thing I know is that helping others find joy results in a much greater increase of your own.
May your days be full of tears of joy, so when the tears of sadness come, they aren’t alone, and are diluted by their predecessors.