In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin argued, “it is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” The words have profound meaning for me, and I think most of our family. When we meet people who have followed our blog they often say, “you guys are so positive.” They commend me for finding humor in the many twists and turns of Jordan’s cancer. I tell them that humor has been as necessary for us as medicine. If we allowed ourselves to take the easy path, and wallow in every setback—every decrement in Jordan’s health—I don’t know how we would have been able to support one another. It is sometimes hard to be positive and to celebrate the small victories, but it is necessary.
Yet, we are tired. And, the ebullient six year-old who leapt into the fight against the c-word is now a young lady with battle scars and memories and a growing awareness of what she’s lost. If she were perfectly healthy, she’d be just as likely to discover this angst. She is a teenager after all. But we have grown so accustomed to her effortless and bubbly personality in the midst of true crisis that her brooding and quietness is particularly unsettling.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. We don’t do much to celebrate it in our house. Jeanette and I find it to be one of the silliest non-holidays and we decided this year that we would not surrender to over-priced restaurants and the expectation of expensive gifts neither of us need. But I wanted to give both of the ladies in my life a little present–nothing big, just something of the kitschy variety. I found a cute pair of Valentine’s themed socks, and a set of miniature coloring pencils for Jordan. I wrapped them in a box with a smiling cartoon monkey on the front. Jordan’s bedroom door was open and I found her sitting on her bed scanning her iPad. I held the box behind my back, wished her a Happy Valentine’s Day, kissed her on the cheek and presented my gift.
Her response: “okay.”
No smile. No thanks. She barely looked up from her iPad to acknowledge me. It sometimes takes her a bit to spin up in the morning, so I ignored her coolness, smiled and went on with my morning.
Later we decided to lunch together as a family at a local restaurant that Jordan had never been to before. She was hostile to everyone and iced me when I tried to help her with the menu. She refused to make a choice, so I ordered for her. She hesitantly sampled the first course. When she realized it was actually quite tasty, she softened up and gradually engaged in conversation with the rest of us.
I worked my ass off yesterday trying to cheer her. I refused to let her pull me into the shadows of her mood. I was probably annoying everyone else with my “glass is half full” insistence. But, by day’s end the Slayer was nearly herself, though perhaps less talkative than usual. We watched an 80’s movie, as we often do on weekends. When it was over she told me she liked it and then we chatted for a bit. She asked me about some old friends that she’d tried to call. They never return her calls. This troubles her. I explained that it had been so long since they’d seen her. Sometimes friends grow apart. The truth is that the last time Jordan called them it was painfully evident that they had grown-up to be normal teenage girls, who were interested in pop culture and boys and the mundane things that sensationalize a teenager’s life. Jordan couldn’t keep up with the conversation. She just kept asking if they remembered the last time they got together for a slumber party. It broke my heart and no one was to blame. The girls on the other end of the line knew that Jordan was different from other kids. When they were younger, the differences didn’t seem so wide. They probably felt obligated to speak with her. But they couldn’t relate to her. This lack of connection weighs heavily on Jordan. She craves friends.
I told her to keep her head up and know that she will make new friends. That was little solace. She wants her old friends. But she let it go and a few minutes later I was tucking her into bed and enjoying the warmth of a great hug and wishes for sweet dreams.
You have to work for happiness. You can’t expect it to come to you. Ordinarily, Jordan works tirelessly to enjoy life and be happy. Lately, I think she wants a break—to let the unhappy feelings lounge with her. It’s perfectly normal, and perfectly okay. I never want her to feel the pressure to be anything other than herself. And all I can do is try to engage with her, to try and make her laugh, to encourage her to do things that she enjoys, to spend quality time together.
Many years ago, a friend of mine described her participation in a pretty intense yoga regimen. She told me that at nearly every session someone in the room cried. I asked why and she explained that the focus on the body allowed people to flush bad emotions from their mind. I thought to myself, “remind me never to go to yoga with you.”
I started working out again this week. I’ve been frequenting SoulCycle. The former cyclist in me loves the intensity and the music lover relishes the rhythmic approach. I attended a class this morning. It was my third and I’m finally able to keep up. About two thirds of the way through the workout the instructor had us out of the saddle, pushing as hard as we could on resistance with a very high tempo cadence. He kept saying, “this is for you. Don’t give up on yourself.” My body was so ready to be done with the workout but I kept pushing. And then I realized that I was sobbing. This rush of emotion came out of nowhere and I thought of Jordan and all that she had been through and how lucky I was to be on that bike using my legs. I felt an obligation to push harder, to not give up. I was grateful that I was already a sweaty mess with a red face, spinning in a darkened room. No one there knew that I’d just had a bit of what pilots call “an emotional incident.”
I wish that I could say that I left class feeling that I had flushed a feeling. But the heaviness walked back to the car with me. It strapped in to the passenger seat and we rode home together. And when we got there it followed me into the shower.
It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.