Monday, January 16, 2012

The Gift of Joy

I was reminded this last week of something that I have known for a long time but had lost touch with in a busy life. Some people are born with the gift of joy. They are happy by nature even when they suffer the events that come to all human beings: loses , disappointments, estrangements. They seem to carry with them the ability to focus on the positive and move forward . In fact, it has been my experience that they come at life full tilt, devil take the hindmost. My father was one of those people. So was my friend, Dave.

Life was not easy for Dad, but he refused to be daunted by it. In fact, he seemed to embrace even the most devastating experience and grow from it, always choosing joy over sorrow. He fell in love with my mother on first sight when she was fourteen and he was sixteen. There was never anyone else as far as he was concerned. They both finished college before getting married. We children were icing on the cake for them. She died when they had been married seven years. He was broken hearted yet he focused on his children and the plans they had made together for us. I recall a childhood with a father who knew how to set boundaries but was accessible, even playful with us. He seemed to always be smiling. I recall that the worst I ever felt about my own rather outlandish antics was when he looked at me with disappointment.

One of the things that I recall is that both he and Mother played the violin. I have no recall of hearing her play, but my father would take out her violin, the better of the two instruments, and play for us. They were always lilting tunes. He especially liked Dvorak’s Humoresque for its playful syncopation. I like knowing that that violin is still in our family in the hands of my cousin, Lenita, a doctor and herself a very talented musician.

My father didn’t live as long as we would have wished, but he saw every day as a gift. He’d grown up hearing about the fight it took for him to come through the first day or so of his life. He always said that he wasn’t meant to be here; but since he was, he intended to enjoy ever day he was given and he did.

It could be that my young friend, Dave Richards, reminded me of him from the beginning. I met Dave because he and my older son, Geoff, swam on the same team and seemed to connect from the first. Theirs was an odd friendship as they were not very much alike except for the swimming thing. Our Geoff tends to be serious and somewhat dark by nature. He is highly gifted intellectually; and, like many people with that kind of intelligence, he has difficulty relating to most people. Dave, on the other hand, had the gift of joy. Because I know that any friend of Geoff’s had to be smart, I assume that Dave was; but that is not what made him noticeable. It was his spirit. He came at life with exuberance and high expectations that each day was going to be a blast. I don’t think I ever saw him frown. That is not to say that he didn’t recognize when things were not what they should be. We talked about his life a lot over the years. He shared some of the worrisome moments, but there was always that hopeful quality even when things were tough. He was zany and quirky with a grin as big as all outdoors. I would defy anyone who knew him for more than a few minutes not to fall under that spell of carried joy. He loved his family and would share with me his tales of his nephews and their accomplishments. He almost hero worshipped his older brother, Doug, and saw him as the ideal he hoped to achieve although he laughingly admitted that that was hardly likely given their very different approaches to life. I was reminded this week that he called his mother, “Mumsey,” a name she cherishes. It’s whimsy fits his personality and lightened her life.

Even after our son left the area, Dave would come roaring up in our driveway riding his latest motorcycle, a mode of transportation he loved. He would bounce up to our door; and when I opened it, he would sweep me into a great bear hug and bless my mundane day with his latest tales that always sounded like great adventures. And he grinned.

I learned this last week that Dave had died suddenly. I attended the visitation and spoke with his family and some of the friends he had made over the years. We all agreed that we were helpless in the wake of his personality. We loved him deeply because we all appreciated the gift that he brought to us—sheer, unapologetic joy. His mother shared with me that that is the way it was from his birth. As I looked at photos of him from his early childhood, I could see that she was spot on. His grin dominated the room even then.

And did I mention, he played the violin. He was an accomplished musician who tended to downplay his talent; but for someone who grew up hearing violins, I was impressed when I heard him play. His mother told me that he played violin the way he lived, with energy and verve and astounding talent. Why not? That was Dave. I will miss him, but I will also be grateful that he saw me as a friend and shared his life with me. That is, indeed, a gift to treasure.

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