Joy and Tragedy Together

Joy Field Trip: Pollack-Krasner House, Springs, NY Time for imagination!

Today’s challenges might make it counterintuitive to see how joy can be interwoven with tragedy, but if you think about your own life, you might begin to see this happening.

My daughter’s birth, one of the most joyful events of my life, occurred in DC within days before President Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt. An ambulance rushed him to the cardiac specialists at George Washington Hospital Center with a bullet lodged close to his heart. I’d been outside in the crowd gathered by reports of a shooting of someone in the White House when a spokesperson announced Press Secretary Jim Brady had been severely injured by a stray bullet. Upstairs at GW two floors away from the President, my newborn rested “under the lights” to adjust a jaundice that turned her an unearthly shade of yellow.

As the President struggled for his life initially unbeknown to many of us, I attempted to enter the hospital using my VA Driver’s license, US Senate ID (hadn’t checked out  since birth two weeks early), and my GW patient bracelet that I’d managed to retain.  Even as a nursing mother it took me 45 minutes to cajole my way into the hospital and another half an hour to convince the staff to allow me to use the elevator to reach my daughter. At first, they wanted me to take the stairs. What? No. Turns out the elevator ran close to the surgical wing where the President’s surgery took place. Once I reached the nursery, I found an armed guard placed outside the window to the room where I would be feeding my daughter. Unacceptable. Yet overcome by the joy in seeing my daughter, I proceeded, struggling to create the bond we needed to nurse successfully.  First thing next morning her doctor and I had a quick chat. Yes, I’d see she got lots of sunshine—at HOME—which was where she, her father and I went within the hour.

This is Us   

You may be more familiar with the television drama that mixes these two emotional moments. This combination consistently raises a tear from viewers of the American TV show “This is Us.”  Four years ago, the series began with the birth of triplets: two lived and the third was stillborn. A joyful birth with tragedy packed inside. Their parents–Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia)—are thrilled, yet devastated by the loss of Nick, the third. In steps Dr. Nathan Katowsky (Gerald McRaney won an Emmy for Best Drama Guest Actor for the role befriending the couple and commiserating as only someone could who lost his a child can.) Dr. K tells them a baby, born the same day as the Pearson’s, has been brought to the hospital from a firehouse, where he’d been left.

Dr. K suggests the Pearson Family might take home three children after all: “I’d like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me talking a young man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.” The Pearson’s adopt the black baby, naming him Randall. As is the case in television soap opera, many joyful and tragic incidents follow, but in near equal measure.

Tragedy—brought about by serious disease, death of a loved one, debilitating injury, or loss of a job– comes to most all of us at some point and can pull our world and everything in it apart. But as soon as we’re able, it helps to look beyond what seems to darken our world and see into the eyes of the innocent—the children—or take a walk down a nature trail. There is a vitality there that can slowly show us a path out and help us consider small steps that can lead us to sunnier paths, until we can again see joy in the universe. *

No one wishes for a global disaster that impacts the entire planet, taking lives and lives’ purpose from people all over the globe. But it’s bringing neighbors closer together exchanging vital information along with a cup of sugar or a tire change. Life boils down to our basic needs and moments with the family in a way many have never experienced before. Having a classroom at the kitchen table opens up a variety of learning experiences closer to home.

This unexpected closeness for a long period of time can create friction, but if a little patience is applied, this enforced togetherness can allow time to share ideas, maybe even collaborate across generations. While we certainly can’t rejoice over a pandemic, working within its limitations may grant us time we’ve not taken before to renew our relationships with family and friends in person and by text and simple phone calls to renew our bonds. That brings me joy.

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*I’m not indicating that serious depression can be cured by a walk in the woods. I know better and hope that if you are headed that way, you seek help or at least find a professional you can meet online if you can’t meet in person. Your mental health is equally as important as your physical health, particularly now.

Believe You Can

My beloved Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Mountains never failed to help me revive my belief in myself.

Take stock now that a year has turned. It’s not so easy I know as I recalculate the completion date for my book. Disappointment in myself could be an easy response. But this creative process, whether with books, frying chicken, or basketball takes time. Sometimes it takes more time than we want to allow and we give up. Not yet in my case because I saw what the people noted below were able to accomplish when they stuck with it.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

I’m not recommending that you wallow in failure, but that you consider it a steppingstone. What can you learn from it to take away to project 2.0, 3.0, or 500.0? Failing today can build a foundation for a successful tomorrow, if you embrace what you’ve learned and moved it forward.

Extraordinary belief yields amazing results

That’s what Thomas Edison did when creating the light bulb. It took 10,000 experiments with different materials and timing to create the perfect GE light bulb. As a boy, he finished his schooling at home with his mother, who believed in him, after his schoolteacher found him “stupid” and beyond learning. Maybe he was just resting his mind so he could later create 9,000 U.S. Patented inventions  and found a laboratory to mold scientific minds following in his path. Edison never gave up and when he hit his stride very few could keep up or meet his success.

J.K. believed and Stephen had a believer

The writer J.K. Rowlings, known today as the creator of the internationally renown Harry Potter series, which has captivated my grandson and millions around the world, hatched the idea for the books on a train in England in 1990. Not until 1997, after the loss of her mother and her marriage and with a child to raise, did Rowlings publish the first novel. She believed in the idea and with each publication more rolled from her fingers. Now financially secure, she doesn’t stop but keeps creating new ideas to play with our imagination—that’s what she does.

Stephen King, who has 50 spooky novels to his international credit, received 30 rejections for Carrie, his first novel that was later made into a movie. When he placed that manuscript in the trash ready to give up, his wife pulled it out and gave it another try. Having someone who believes in you can be a blessing, but sometimes you need to rely on yourself to keep on.

Harlan believed into his 60s and beyond

No doubt you’ve heard of Colonel Sanders, the fried chicken magnet. It’s shocking to know that his recipe has traveled around the world—something about salty that translates well. Well enough that Col. Sanders stores are ubiquitous in Beijing and Shanghai, popping up on many corners in the business district. But do you know the backstory? Harlan Davis Sanders submitted his special recipe for fried chicken using a faster pressurized method to 1,009 restaurants before one in Salt Lake City, Utah brought it in 1952.

Born in Indians, Sanders originally developed the recipe when he was 50 in 1939, but he didn’t take it around until he used a $105 social security check to help fund the trip when he was 65. He built his brand as the white-suited, mustache-wearing, Kentucky colonel, and the company grew to become internationally recognized. When Sanders turned 74, he sold the company for $2 million, retaining rights to the Canadian market and becoming a goodwill ambassador. Not a billionaire, but comfortable until his death at 90, when bhis body laid at the Kentucky State Capitol for viewing before burial.

Michael wasn’t always a superstar, but he practiced

Not all successful people are inventors or whip up a lip-smacking recipe, some enjoy a game and play it so well the world takes notice. Take Michael Jordan, an athlete born in Brooklyn, but raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, a small town the parents of five thought would be a better influence. Michael wanted to follow in the footsteps of his athletic brother, but being much shorter, he stuck with baseball, where he was an MVP pitcher and outfielder.

When a position on the varsity basketball squad opened, he thought the position would automatically be his, though he was 5’11.” Another player, 6’5” grabbed the spot. That got Michael’s attention and his lazy approach to practice evaporated. By the time he was a high school junior, Michael had grown to 6’3,” taller than any family member, and continued to perfect  his skills.  He made the varsity squad and scored the winning point for the University of North Carolina in the 1982 NCAA Championship against Georgetown. He played on the gold medal-winning 1984 and 1992 Olympic teams. For the Chicago Bulls, Jordan led the way to becoming an NBA All-Star 14 times, six times the NBA champion, and five times the NBA MVP. The official NBA website proclaimed him “the greatest basketball player of all time.” Quite a feat for someone who struggled to make the team as a sophomore.

Keep on keeping on!

There are days, many days, when it’s easy to question my progress on the book and I’m briefly tempted to hang it up. But I still believe I have a story worth telling. So in 2020 I’m vowing to keep at it, set goals, limit distractions, and move to the finish to get ‘er done. Join me in your quest, whatever it is, so we can be satisfied when 2021 rolls around!