On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, I’ve been leading our look at Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life. Last week, we considered the sorrow in our cup; this week, how our sorrow also contains joy.
On the first day of kindergarten, my classmates and I, awaiting our teacher, sat cross-legged and quiet on the carpeted square in the middle of Mrs. Nordby’s classroom.
I sat in the back row, trying to muffle my homesick sobs. My best friend Tracy sat next to me with her best-friend arm around my shoulders.
The next-door teacher Mrs. Woodcock, dressed up–appropriately–as a woodcock, noticed the crying kindergartner, entered the room, and asked what was wrong.
While I continued crying, Tracy answered for me, “She misses her mom.”
Mrs. Woodcock tried to say something consoling, something about it being all right, and then took off, with her flowy, bobbing feathers. Mrs. Nordby soon arrived, and proved to be an near-idyllic teacher.
Early in the school year, over a weekend, I broke my arm. This somehow merited me the high honor of moving my desk face-to-face with Mrs. Nordby’s. I got to bring a friend. So, Tracy brought her desk next to mine. The honors didn’t stop there. Mrs. Nordby had, setting on her desk, an Avon canister shaped like a school house. She showed us, and even dabbed some of the perfume onto Tracy’s and my wrists! We girls gasped. Our teacher smiled. Thanks to Mrs. Nordby, the sorrow of having a broken arm was truly swallowed up in these simple joys.
Tracy moved out of town, then back, then out of state. We stayed in touch.
Occasionally, we stayed at each other’s house. When we were about 16 years old, she came to my house for a visit. As we sat on the living room couch, I told her about something very sad I saw happen to someone I love very much. I started to weep. Tracy put both arms around me as I cried. I accidentally snorted. Tracy’s cheek, pressed next to mine, balled up into a smile, and her body started to silently shake. She was laughing! Just as I had tried to muffle my sobs in kindergarten class, she now tried to muffle her laughter in the living room. I gave her points for effort, resigned this chance to have another good cry with her, and instead joined her in laughter.
We still laugh about that moment when deep sorrow turned into rollicking laughter. Even today, Tracy has a gift, like no one else I’ve been around, to share sorrow, and to lighten the burden without making light of the pain. For that reason–and many others–sharing not only my sorrows but life with Tracy is a joy.
In Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?, the Catholic priest recounts his own years of sharing both sorrows and joys, while living in a community of people with disabilities:
- My own life in this community has been immensely joyful, even though I had never suffered so much, cried so much, and anguished so much as at Daybreak. Nowhere am I as well known as in this little community…I have never experienced so deeply that the true nature of priesthood is a compassionate-being-with (p 45).
Tracy has the gift of a “compassionate-being-with.” Like Jesus.
Nouwen describes Jesus’ priesthood “as one of solidarity with human suffering,” and hears a challenge “just to connect my own vulnerability with the vulnerability of those I live with.” He continues: “And what a joy that is! The joy of belonging, of being part of, of not being different.”
Without even trying, it seems, Tracy calls forth vulnerability. And although, this can be a dangerous call to answer, she has never hurt or betrayed my vulnerability but instead shared hers. What a joy to have a friend like this.
In recent years, Tracy has acquired a disability of her own. She’s in some sort of pain always. And the medications cause further physical problems. Still her ability to listen is intact.
“Do you get mad at God?” I asked her a few years ago.
“No. He has helped me so much!”
“Why are you mad at God?”
Just the fact that she wasn’t tracking with me was a relief, I guess, because I knew she was the same Tracy who lives joyfully despite her own sorrow. This revelation drowned out my anger (often related to sorrow).
I fell asleep thinking and praying about Tracy’s suffering that had become my sorrow. As I recounted her words and God’s promises, God showed up and showed me his grace in her life: being able to hold a cup of sorrow and–without dismissing the sorrow–see a cup of joy.
As Nouwen writes: “If joys could not be where sorrows are, the cup of life would never be drinkable. This is why we have to hold the cup in our hands and look carefully to see the joys hidden in our sorrow” (p 47).
Let it be so with us, that we’re able to help each other hold the cup of sorrow and receive the cup of joy.
Next week, we go from holding our cup to lifting (celebrating) our cup of life.
Jadell Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.