You take the good, you take the bad…
All but two of my grandmother’s American grandchildren and great-grandchildren made it to Trinidad for the final farewell. Why aren’t my sister and I in this photo? Uhm, well, okay, it’s because we’re in the grocery store buying every single piece of candy that we remember eating in Trinidad when we were kids. Sigh…
I have a love-hate relationship….with happiness. When I was a kid, it seems like my happiest moments were always the ones that were swiftly followed by the whip of my mother’s* voice. If I was tearing around, just running and jumping like a kid should, I’d hear, “Don’t get carried away” or “Stop showing off.” The time I finally came home with a straight-A report card after going two trimesters with a B in handwriting (this was 3rd grade), I heard, “Those jeans are filthy. Why are you such a dirty child.” And then there was the infamous battle of my freshman year in college, when, newly giddy on the power to finally buy my own clothes, I pulled on a t-shirt and the new GAP sweat-shorts I’d bought (c’mon, it was the 80s people), which I thought was appropriate gear to go visit my father. My mother’s response? “You look ugly, and I don’t care if it hurts your feelings that I’m telling you that.” Sigh…**
Needless to say, I learned pretty quickly to mistrust moments of joy, especially public ones. and behaviors that could lead to such joy, you know, like success and achievement and the like. It’s not that I avoid them—happiness feels quite good even to anti-social couch-lovers like me—but I always make sure not to feel too ecstatic for too long. And I expect that if something good happens, it’s time to brace myself for the bad that’s imminently following.
As some of you know, my grandmother Eutrice died several weeks ago. The day before she died was a pretty wonderful day. I spent a good chunk of the late morning at the Wheaton Public Library store buying records and a Colette novel in the specific paperback edition I love and some other goodies. Later that afternoon I made it to the Pyramid Atlantic open house where I block-printed a piece of fabric, letter-pressed a birthday card, and received for free a gorgeously colored, 11×14 print that I just love. On the way home I stopped in one of my neighborhood record stores where I scored a $7 nearly mint copy of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, which I’d been dying to get. I don’t remember what I did that night, but all in all, it was a great day. And I woke up still glowing from how wonderful the day was.
Then I got the phone call. I managed to somewhat pull it together to walk to church but lost it again in the middle of service. I felt broken wide open. In Trinidad for the funeral with my family, I was very aware of the many moments of grace that punctuated the trip. My aunt J’s old boyfriend rearranged his schedule nearly each and every day to take us to run errands. He also helped us to get inexpensive transportation for some group outings. He was Christian as were the caretakers at the guest house, which somehow made everything feel easier and safer. Eventually that week I realized that God had also given me an incredible moment–or rather day–of grace the Saturday before my grandmother died. I recognized for the first time that the bad thing wasn’t punishment for the good thing. Rather, the good thing was a cushion that made the bad thing easier to bear. How much worse would her loss have felt had I spent the day before feeling lonely or angry or generally unhappy?
As I pondered the many expressions of God’s grace that week, I also really understood for the first time that bad and good aren’t quite as intimately connected the way I thought. Sure they might seem to follow one another, but there is really no cause and effect. Life is made up of good moments and life is made up of bad moments. Sometimes extraordinarily significant good moments happen so close to extraordinarily significant bad moments that, from a certain perspective, they can seem linked. And sometimes they are. But not always. And I’d be willing to say that—unless your good moments are purchased at the expense of others—that it’s not often either. And what a moment of grace in itself that God used this time to teach me something in an area with which I’d been struggling my whole life.