Our legacy of joy

What is our essential gift? On my bus ride to work today I was thinking about people I’ve known who had long careers, did many things and now are gone. What did I remember about them? I think of my four grandparents and how I talk about them with my daughter who never knew any of them. They all had complex characters and personalities, lived full lives and did many things. Yet what I take away from my relationship with each is a combination of my own outlook/gift and theirs. There is some organic chemistry that occurs when what we meet others, some part of our offering sometimes connects to what they offer. In families, by necessity, we make these connections long lasting and what results are memories.

I had no interest in practical matters so I learned nothing about carpentry from my two gifted grandfathers. I was not interested in running things, like my grandmother Pitcher, so that part of her did not rub off on me. And my other grandmother loved to bowl and go on trips with her relations. Again I learned nothing about that. I feel badly that what I took from them were not what they most wanted to share with me. That speaks to my own lack of skills and interests in practical and important matters.

What I do remember and value from each of these four are the ways they had fun with their lives. My Dad’s Dad liked to organize his tools and belongings, everything was in a certain place, things were organized according to type, and I could tell this wasn’t just to be efficient, my grandfather had fun with this. My Dad’s Mom loved her flowers. She would plant and groom these most colourful plants and flowers and everything she touched had such a vibrant presence. Her smile was ear to ear. My Mom’s Dad was an odd duck, he rode a unicycle in parades and he climbed stairs with stilts. He also liked to make things out of other things, he was repurposing before the art-form was cool. My Mom’s Mom loved hats and gloves, she revelled in this, had sets of each for every occasion.

All of them lived through the great depression and the Second World War. All of them lived through, and participated in, the divide between Protestants and Roman Catholics. All of them saw diseases and illness kill family members, illnesses that today are treated with drugs and are no longer considered a terminal diagnosis. Yet all of them found joy in some aspect of the human condition, in some part of their life that they could control. The hard work, the effort to survive, to protect and care for loved ones, to care for one’s community and country, could only be justified if there was some joy to be found in life. And each one found it in their own place.

That is what I take away from their lives and that is where my life and their lives connect, in finding moments of joy and fun throughout our days. I want my daughter to know this, I want her to understand that in struggling to make a living, in caring for others, in making a life for herself, that she needs to foster and nurture something that gives her joy.