Nothing ever made me happier than when my mother and father laughed—big spontaneous laughs with eyes closed and noses crinkled. It was rare and rich and usually in response to memories from before cancer and crippling illness, before three wars, before waking up to almost nothing on the grocery store shelves, before losing parents, before moving from praying for four children to praying for fourteen grandchildren. They chuckled in the present largely, I think, for us, but they couldn’t even pretend to revel in frivolity. Only beautiful music brought them pure joy.
Their eyes were open to larger, universal realities. At any given moment, someone somewhere was suffering. They felt it deep in their bones. It led them to do crazy, daring things. To put their lives on the line for others with no promised return on investment in this life.
Generations are shaped by shared experiences. We’re all somehow different on one side of an event than we were on the other. I try to imagine towns and stores back to normal, with bustling crowds of people ignoring each other, parents planning birthday parties, rival teams sparring for points and trophies, meandering shoppers bumping into each other while looking for the right puffy coat and mumbling, “Sorry.”
If normal ever returns, I don’t imagine we’ll all see it as we did before—the superfluous interchanges, the going through the motions, the full baskets at Costco. At least some of us won’t. Because we’ll be on the other side of something big. Something we couldn’t foresee. Something we couldn’t control. And we will be different.
We’ll laugh for different reasons. And cry for different reasons. And give our lives for different reasons. And the one thing that will still bring us pure joy is beautiful music.