Folk artist Phil Ochs wrote a song in 1966 that was later recorded by Joan Baez, and well describes the life I am lucky enough to live:
“There but for fortune, go you or go I.”
On a good day, I can appreciate my journey. I can look in the mirror, see myself, and feel good about the steps I’ve taken, and even the steps I’ve missed along the way.
I can find joy in the ordinary.
I can pet Rooney and think, with each scratch of his ear, how lucky I am to have a dog that so closely matches my needs. I can appreciate the first few sips of coffee when I sit down to my desk, and walk into the gym filled with gratitude that I work in a helping profession that allows me to dance, wear dinosaur costumes and help people.
But I often lose track of my good fortune.
And this holiday season, my gratitude has taken a back seat to grief and sadness. As many of you know, earlier this month, we lost my mother n'law quite unexpectedly.
I have struggled to find joy or gratitude in many of the moments over the past month. Earlier this week, as I sat quietly during the waning hours of Christmas Eve, in the glow of the lights from the tree, I was overcome with the realization and sadness that I will never share another Christmas with a family member whom I loved so dearly.
As Rooney slept on my lap, I wept onto his head and wiped my tears with his long basset ears (which aren’t very absorbent). I wondered and worried how I’d get through Christmas day feeling any kind of joy.
But then Rooney snuggled in a little deeper and Sheila brought me a real tissue in favor of the dog’s ears - and the snow fell softly on the Pennsylvania mountain outside the window, Phil Ochs' words popped into my head.
There but for fortune, go you or go I.
Sure I am sad. And there is an empty, aching hole in my heart. But I have a snuggly dog, a life-partner who loves me, and a family who misses me when I’m not around. I have a niece who loves Wonder Woman, a nephew who thought Stretch Armstrong was the best gift ever, and co-workers and clients who cleaned the snow from my car while I was gone. (Thank you.)
I am, not to sound dramatic, a very rich woman.
Despite my riches, joy is often hard to feel.
Intellectually, we know we should be grateful and we should feel joy, but sometimes life and scars and struggles numb us to both pain and happiness.
It is my wish for you, as we wrap up 2017 and prepare for the coming year, that you might feel joy - in the ordinary - in the extraordinary. That you might inhale deeply, and exhale fully, and lean completely into the joy and gratitude of your life.