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.


*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.