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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Day 4 continued: "The Ache of Joy"

[Note added December, 2018. These chapters were written in the days following my wife's open heart surgery. At the time of the thoughts in this post, we did not know she would be having emergency open-heart surgery within 24 hours. Many years have passed since these thoughts were posted, but the phrase "the ache of joy" has come to mind during many other difficult times of life...]

It’s about a ten minute drive between hospitals. I couldn’t see the ambulance (which was probably a light or two ahead of me) and I felt strangely alone as I drove. A light snow was falling and the radio was playing Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” That’s one of those goose-bump songs that sums up the way students and teachers feel in those busy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It occurred to me that we had missed the program practice on Tuesday for Thursday night’s school program. I thought back to all the Christmas programs the girls have been in and how last year Nat was one of two turtle doves (with both a turtle shell and dove wings—corny but cute). I started to sing along with the radio, and from out of nowhere, my voice cracked with emotion and a sort of sadness swept over me.

“Where did that come from?” I wondered aloud.

It was the first of several unexpected pauses in the days to come when happy recollections would suddenly seem too wonderful to bear, and rather than a smile they brought the ache of joy: a fragile awareness that life is a collection of mostly uneventful moments. They do not pass but gather; they are not spent but shared; and only rarely do we begin to grasp their value—or allow ourselves to think they will someday change—and when we do, our grip goes numb, like in a dream, just when it matters most to hold on.

That’s what I mean by the ache of joy. It’s not a passing feeling but the passing ability to sense what’s always there, the simplicity of life that is lost in the complexity of living. It catches us off guard because it’s stored not in our cherished memories but in moments that have passed forgotten. Out of nowhere it comes, this ache of joy, but briefly seeing life this clearly blurs the eyes. In my case that day, it also made it hard to sing as if nothing were wrong while following my wife’s ambulance. I was confident that ‘nothing was wrong,’ but I learned then that some involuntary part of me had seen through the calm face I’d been wearing since Monday.

I turned off the radio and began praying that Julie was alright and that she was not worrying about such things on the way to Mercy.

[She later told me that they tried to have fun en route. She had asked if she could turn on the siren to have something to tell her preschoolers about, but it was against the rules. Then the “trainee” was trying to take Julie’s vitals and finally said, “I can’t find a pulse on her.” The male EMT took Julie’s wrist to show the rookie how it’s done, but he also came up blank. “Does that mean I’m dead,” Julie joked. Then the driver rounded a corner and hit the curb. Wham!. “There, now you should find her pulse,” she shouted over her shoulder. Everyone laughed. Julie was surprised by their banter, but she was totally relaxed by the time they arrived at Mercy. I share this only to illustrate that it’s better to be in an ambulance with light-hearted companions than alone in a melancholy mood.]

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