Seeking Exuberance

By Kim Seeley

Seeking Exuberance

I was perusing a magazine, while at a beach cottage last spring, when I first saw it. It seemed so simple, yet it drew me in, it spoke to me. It was a full page photograph of three white-haired ladies splashing in the surf. The photographer’s expertise was impressive, capturing the spray of the water, the blue of the skies, the very fabric of their bathing suits. But I am no photography scholar; it was not the artist’s technical skill that seized my imagination. What captured my attention was the ability to express the zest, the smiles, the absolute joy of the moment that these older ladies were experiencing. I walked across the room to show the picture to my daughter and then to my husband. “This,” I said, “is how I want to feel when I am old.”

I wanted to take the magazine home with me, simply because that picture made such an impression on me. But I didn’t. I didn’t need to. That picture still pops into my mind every now and then. The ladies’ white hair gleaming in the sunlight, and their infectious smiles flash upon my “inward eye” just as Wordsworth’s daffodils appeared to him. Were the ladies lifelong friends? Were they all residents at the same retirement home? Did they all own splendid cottages along this rocky coast? I will never know. It doesn’t really matter.

None of these ladies seemed particularly beautiful. Their bodies had rounded with age, their waistlines protruded rather than indented. Their faces were creased with wrinkles. No doubt they awoke that morning with some of the aches and pains that old age seems to bring to us all. But what the photograph shows is that they still had the zest for living. They had not forgotten how to play, and they had not lost their exuberance. That is what I long for – I want to feel that zest for living, I envy their joie de vivre.

How do I capture that exultation in life, when I am still living in the shadow lands? I am not quite so much in the dark as I was, but I realize I am still in the shadows. In a few days, it will be the seventh anniversary of my 19-year old daughter’s death, a split-second of time that plunged me into the valley of the shadow where only the grieving dare to go. And only a few of us make it out.

I know of a local woman who shut out life completely after her teen-age daughter was killed by a drunk driver. No one in town ever saw her again. Her husband did the grocery shopping. She quit attending church. She became a recluse.

People more experienced in the ways of grief attempted to soothe me. “Time will make it easier,” one lady told me after church. “Before long, your daughter will be just a pleasant memory.”

I was not in the mood for reassurance. “I don’t want her memory,” I replied. “I want her here. Now. In the flesh. I want her back.” The lady didn’t know how to respond to that. I didn’t expect a response. I hadn’t received a response from God Himself, so I certainly wasn’t counting on one from a mere human.

The woman’s comment did contain an element of truth; I just wasn’t ready to hear it. Time does assuage the pain. Life helps to assuage the pain. But the grieving must choose life. There were many times after my daughter’s accident when I thought about the grieving mothers who refused to get out of bed for months after losing a child. But I chose to get up every day. I remember reading an article about grief that was entitled, “First, you tie your shoes.” How true. First, we grieving people must choose to continue our own existences here on earth.

Friends and family also help in those first steps out of the darkness. One of my husband’s friends just came over at night and made conversation with us. Hearing news of the community and local school helped us see beyond our pain, if only for a little while. My family and friends invited me to go shopping with them or to sample a new restaurant.

Day by day, month by month, life itself helps ease the pain. I had started a new job; I was teaching seventy-five students. There were people who needed my skills. All of those demands helped pull me out of the abyss.

Then three of my girlfriends and I planned a cross-country trip. The natural and spiritual wonders I experienced on that trip brought me moments of joy I did not think would be possible for me again. Nature helped bring me out of the shadow lands and into the light.

Last year, I took a trip to England. That was another item on my bucket list. I had been an English major in college, and visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare and Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey were just two of the highlights of a trip that brought me closer to rapture. I wept with joy and grief on my last day in London when our taxi passed the Queen’s carriage, with its royal insignia and prancing steeds. I knew I might never pass that way again, but I was thankful for the experience.

A person cannot travel forever – at least not a person with my modest income. I have experienced great joy from my travels, but the joy of the ladies in that photograph did not come merely from new scenery. Their faces expressed such delight in the present moment, in allowing themselves to feel, truly feel, the cool water, the ocean breeze. That is the type of joy one may find in any location. That is the exuberance I truly seek. Let me be mindful of the joys of this day, wherever I may be. Let me be fully present in this moment. Let me feel the optimism and love of my much-anticipated grandson when he arrives this fall.

I have tied my shoes. I have started the walk. May I continue the journey from the shadow lands of grief into the light of joy. Grant me the exuberance of the white-haired ladies, and give me the presence of mind to be grateful for it.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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3 Responses to “Seeking Exuberance”

  1. Jane says:

    My favorite mug….five ladies laughing in the surf of the Pacific! We will grow old and love life and laugh a lot!!!!! Your friend. Jane

  2. Linda says:

    Kim, you continue to be an inspiration and blessing to me.
    Loved the story, as those you have written before.

  3. Bill says:

    Kim, you truly have a gift. Thanks for tying your shoes and sharing.

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