I went to Beach 1 over the weekend for a mental excursion. Keeping a healthy distance from other humans, I watched from my perch on a picnic table. Above the thundering of the waves beating the shoreline, I heard a sound I hadn’t heard in some time: laughter.
A woman, bent down to scour the sand for beach glass, was suddenly drenched in cold lake water; she’d gotten a little too close to the waves. Her response was a wail of surprised laughter. Through the wind, over the water, like a rescue rope to all our drifting souls, her laughter caught us and pulled us to safety.
I laughed along with her and noticed others looking up from their nature walks, their feet, their buried thoughts and dreams. They joined in the sudden ripple of laughter.
It was music.
It was a sacred pause on a windswept beach, lasting only a moment.
I pocketed that moment like rare blue beach glass, and carried it home with me to be sustained and reminded: shared laughter was our Sunday communion; our imperfect song; our rescue.
May you be surprised and soul-fed by a swell of pure joy today. I hope it bumps into you from unexpected places and knocks you down and jiggles out a sound you need to hear: the release of your own shut-in laughter, finally finding a way out.
Kathy Joy is the author of Singing Spring, and pursuant to the request of her employer, writes Lunchtime Jabs for her co-workers in Erie, Pennsylvania while they are working from home during the quarantine. Her Breath of Joy books are a series of seasonal pick-me-up styled coffee table books featuring glorious images of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. On these images, her wordsmithing talents soar and dive and dig into the human experience.
By Kathy Joy, Author, Breath of Joy: Singing Spring
The first mild morning–that particular morning when you trade in the heavy coat for a mere sweater–is cause for celebration.
Most years in wintery climes, spring’s official arrival gets top coverage in media outlets everywhere. The first glimpse of a crocus is a metaphor for hope.
But this year it’s different. This year, we are self-isolating; hunkering down, finding new ways to fix canned beans.
While coronavirus dominates the news, spring tiptoes in: Hesitantly, on cat-like feet, it slinks in sideways, taking a seat in the shadows.
Nobody notices a shift in the breeze, a heady buoyant quality that tousles pigtails and tugs playfully on sequestered souls.
Robins, oblivious to the crisis, are leaning in for earthworms, pausing only to trill their signature birdsong.
Living things are stretching their roots beneath our feet, wriggling
and rejoicing at the approach of the resurrection.
It’s all happening, all around us, despite the looming dread of
Tight-fisted rhododendrons are ready to unfurl in bursts of pink, purple, red and white; forsythia hedges will soon be trumpeting their yellow splendor; daffodils not far behind in their marching brigades of buttery magnificence.
If we could just part the curtains on spring’s arrival and take a peek, we might be astonished. We might be gladdened; we might be reminded who’s got this whole weary world in His hands.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows cheap, sold two for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:28-20, Study Bible).
Yesterday my husband and I made a concerted effort to not go anywhere.
We have enough food, enough toilet paper, enough entertainment. By the end of the day though, we were tired of lounging in our jammies saying to each other, “Isn’t this great?” The roast and potatoes and carrots tasted like Sunday dinner without the guests. Hmm. Maybe a shower and getting dressed would have helped the humor after twelve hours of forced leisure. Even our dog seemed lowly, dumped out on the carpet. I looked at his water bowl and realized that in the change of routine, we’d neglected him.
Still, I predict great things to come of this social quarantine,
Boredom births games, boredom births conversations, and silliness, and sex.
I’d already seen several programs on the T.V. and just wanted to click off the power button. It felt like the reruns after 9/11. I decided to clean a room, and I found some forgotten treasures! In that little corner of heaven and for a couple of hours, I saw why cleanliness might prove to be next to godliness.
Explorations in the bookshelf, the stored software-to-learn list, webinars held on the back burner, homeschooling and getting to know one’s kids will all take shape.
All that attention kids need and crave from their parents
will feel a little awkward at first. Arguments and fights will break out. They’ll
look each other in the eye after a few hours and think, is this really
happening? Do I even know this person in
my house?! Then, the serious
discussions will start to take place. Values,
politics, meaning, personal strengths and weaknesses, the I-never and what-if
Things you never wanted to do, you’ll do, and discover you’re pretty good at it given some time.
After we slap our foreheads, remembering to feed our pets out of routine, we’ll tire of the couch and go out to weed the garden. Who weeds the garden anymore? Lawn services are the closest thing to beautifying the landscape we see around our neighborhood.
So, we’ll go outside there, and find some twigs to tie into wreaths and furniture.
We’ll decide to whittle a piece of wood into shape. We’ll find some glue or caulk or paint and start playing around. Our faces will relax. Smiles will be found.
Families will tell stories about grandparents and ancestry and wonder whether they should plan to visit their past in another state, another country entirely. Budgets for historical discovery will be made.
Designers will remember that they enjoyed drawing at one time, and they will begin to design upgrades to their houses. Negotiators, desperate for an income, will negotiate prices for work. The economy will plunge and adjust and perhaps prices will take a turn for the more reasonable.
Inventors will grow industrious. I remember we had installed a gas fireplace with a self-lighting pilot light in our old home because, at the time, rolling electrical black-outs were an issue in winter. In this particular crisis, I’m not sure how helpful the self-lighting pilot would be to eradicate COVID-19, but I am sure that industrious minds will begin to invent heath systems, tools, and hacks for hospitals, homestays, working from home, and bartering.
Would-be authors who have always wanted to write their masterpiece will begin an outline, a first page, a rewrite.
People who fear big brother’s orchestration of society and privacy will invent new protections and products and ideas.
Lawsuits will be settled outside of courtrooms. Fences mended.
We will face our inconsistencies as human beings and personal failures won’t spiral into martyrdom into, “Yes, I’m the trash heap of humanity.” We’ll have the time to talk through specifics, and analyze behaviors, and practice improvement.
Stress factors will release their vice-grip on life, and when we take a long look at what our parent or child is capable of, we will want to form a production line in the family to make the best ideas flourish.
The wiggle worms will get in their cars and drive around to discover what is going on around them, what spring looks like, what birds congregating in gangly trees sound like in chorus.
Adult kids will remember their neighborly shut-ins, their elderly parents and grandparents, and try to do whatever they can to assist them out of loneliness and fear. Concerted efforts to meet these needs will be met with surprising rewards.
Those who enjoy singing will sing again, privately or from their balconies, together in their families, in devotion to their God and to each other. Songs will be written. Pictures painted.
Family meals prepared and eaten around a dining room table. And, someone will say, “Thank you!” “Um, this is good. Is there more?” And, someone else will decide to eat together on the sunny patio and say, “What did you learn today from this strange isolation? Did you invent something wonderful?”
And, a kid will say, “I found the sewing machine and decided to hem my pants, but then I tried to make something else, and guess what? I can sew!”
All of these things will happen because we are not toting each other to hockey, basketball, concerts, the gym, school, our places of worship, and work. Deadlines will not rise up and press against our very bodies for closet space. Instead, Leisure will introduce herself as the new skeleton in our closets.
Some Dove chocolates have been lurking in my desk drawer at the office; I’ve been able, somehow, to resist them. But today is different. Today, as the calendar marches inevitably toward Valentine’s Day, my resolve is weak.
So today I’ve opened the little foil packaging and
here’s what the inside message says:
in those you love.”
And just like that – a flood of memories leaked from my
heart. Memories of my own sweetheart, Roger Hoffner, who died way too soon.
I believed in him.
And because I carry his memory like a treasure, I
still believe in him – in the present
Roger grew up in a time when boys admired men who wore leather gloves to work and tucked knives into their pockets to use when needed. He wanted to emulate them.
He was raised in a country swath of America that
believed in ruggedness and self-sufficiency. He learned, by example, that you
don’t toss something in the trash just because it quits working – you figure
out how to fix it and you take the time to do it right.
Living as a kid in the green rolling hills of Northwest Pennsylvania, Roger worked odd jobs for uncles in exchange for a hot meal and maybe a game of poker. He learned to drive tractor and toss hay bales into the mow, long before he was driving a car.
One of Roger’s most prized possessions was his
pocket knife. I’ve kept it in my jewelry box.
That little 3-blade wonder came out when the girls
got Barbie Dolls at Christmas time, the toys impossibly ensconced in those hard
The small but capable knife was used on our farm to:
a wooden latch,
the ice on the horse’s buckets,
a piece of tack when saddling up and once,
remove gum from our oldest daughter’s hair.
I saw him:
slice a watermelon,
sharpen a pencil,
open a can, and
cut bait from the fishing line.
I often saw him cleaning his fingernails with the
Eventually, as his own nephews grew responsible
enough, Roger started gifting little pocket knives to them so they’d be ready
for any eventuality.
Each of our daughters also received a pocket knife
when the time was right.
I fondly remember their papa cutting reeds by our pond with his knife, to fashion them into organic musical instruments for the girls. They held the long green leaves “just so” and blew through their thumbs and fingers to render nature’s finest music.
The sound came out something like chirping crickets
mixed with bird warbling – it was simply beautiful.
The pocket knife, over the years, came to mean much
more than simply a handy little tool. It represented a hearty resourcefulness. A
hard-scrabble work ethic, a readiness for just about any situation.
I spoke with another guy who carries one, and
he told me he’d attended a concert once and was horrified when the
security guard confiscated the tool and tossed it carelessly into a
My friend fished his pocket knife out of the bin and left the venue; he was not going to lose a lifelong companion over a one-time event, so he went outside and people-watched while his wife enjoyed the music inside the arena.
That’s how strongly men of a former generation feel about
their pocket knives, and that’s how strongly Roger felt about his, too.
I miss him.
I carry Roger’s memory in my heart. I will forward his legacy to my son-in-law. On his birthday coming up, I believe I will gift him Roger’s trusty pocket knife.
I wouldn’t want Nick to find himself in a situation and not be prepared. Especially when the day comes that he takes his own kids fishing and needs to cut some bait.
If I were stranded on a remote island in the middle of the deep blue sea and given only two choices on which to survive – words or numbers – I’d choose words.
Words can paint poetry.
Words sail over an aching heart, whispering strength.
Words bolster up the discouraged; they call armies into battle.
Words inside of prayers have the power to storm the very gates of heaven.
Words form apologies, mend fences, bring loved ones back into the fold.
Words, words, words.
I’ll call my little dot in the sea The Island of Poems.
Yeah, not so much.
Unless, of course, you are a numbers person. If you’re a numbers person, then you would be in your zen, surrounded by facts and figures, numbers and percentages.
That island is called The Island of Numbers.
I think you Island of Numbers dwellers are amazing and a little bit mysterious. Because, why you’d want to crunch numbers all day – particularly, somebody else’s numbers – is beyond my scope of imagination.
But I’m so glad you belong on that island, because we, the taxpayers, need you.
We need you to rescue us from our fear of numbers.
And our fear of the Unknown.
This past year, a new thing was launched–a thing called the Internet Sales Tax, and honestly, it’s got me a little wigged out. Consumers don’t think they need poetry and books the way they need technology, clothing and appliances. When authors and poets make so little on a book as it is, I find it intimidating to navigate the calculations and reports that might be required to justify what I already know to be a valid, consumable necessity.
It feels counter-intuitive, like showing up for battle unarmed.
We authors may as well call it the Poetry Tax.
There was a time, way back, when I warmed up to numbers as potential allies; friends, even.
It was in college, during a class in Math 101. The professor said it this way: “A math equation is beautiful, in the same way, a poem is beautiful.”
He had me at poetry. I leaned forward. I started taking notes.
All because of his many references to words, I passed that course and lived to tell about it. I remember in my notebook, I started lining up numbers in stanzas, or sometimes in free verse. The affinity to words actually helped me form an alliance with a required math course.
Numbers aren’t so scary when they flow like a well-metered poem.