Create Your Own Joy

I wrote this in 2006, one year after my mom died:

The year passed so quickly. Since Mom died last year, our lives have all gone on as busy as before, if not busier. The kids were all in school, Markus worked more hours than he spent at home, finding himself drawing closer to someone else that was not me. No friends, no family, what do I do for me? I can’t remember when I stopped smiling. But I had. I hadn’t even realized the year had passed to the day, until Annie reminded me that Monday was the day Mom had died. How odd it crept up on me, when I had been thinking about Mom so much in the past few weeks. Those weeks had been filled with my feeling nervous, trying to be brave and beginning something new among strangers. I had joined the Waikoloa Canoe Club, hoping to find something that could make me feel happier, fulfilled. To cope with the possibility of being left alone by my husband, everyone’s advice always seemed to be, “don’t hope for someone else to make you happy – make yourself happy.”

What do I know about paddling? Nothing. I didn’t even have the proper equipment or clothing, just a scruffy t-shirt and some shorts. Hunting through my closet before my first practice, I found a pair of red beach shoes – the kind you wear to protect your feet from sharp coral. The tops had been cut to enlarge the opening. Eyes widening, I realized that they were Mom’s – she had worn them towards the end of her life, when her feet were too swollen from her chemotherapy and steroid treatments to fit into her other shoes. I immediately slipped them on and went to my first paddling practice. The club members promptly put me into a canoe, handed me a paddle, the Steersman yelled, “Paddles Up! Hooki!” and we were off, headed for the most blazing sunrise. No time to think, only to imitate the paddler in front of me, remembering to breathe while pulling the paddle through the water, tasting the splash of saltwater on my face. We stopped in what felt like the middle of the ocean, and I looked around for the first time – we were surrounded by crystal clear water – you could see straight to the bottom. And the canoe rocked gently, and nobody spoke to break the silence; we all just breathed. Then, we turned the canoe around and paddled back to shore.

Once on the shore, the spell was broken, and everyone else began chatting with each other, all close friends. Feeling very awkward and out of place, I could only look down at my shoes. My shoes. Mom’s shoes. I smiled, thinking how ironic it was that I had worn her shoes out to the ocean. Mom couldn’t even swim. She hated being out on a boat. My only memory of being on a boat with her was when I was a little girl. I think we were on a cruise and I had just chewed a piece of chocolate flavored gum, and went to kiss her goodnight, and she promptly ran away to vomit. I remember thinking she threw up because of my kiss – Mom and I were infamous for not getting along. Now that I am a mother of a teenager, I know Mom loved me the best way she could. I looked up, smiling with those thoughts, and found myself smiling directly at a very nice teacher from my children’s school. Eyes lighting in recognition, she pulled me into her circle of friends and introduced me to more people than I could possible remember the names of. They were all so warm and welcoming, happy that someone new could enjoy their sport.

The head coach gave some brief instructions, and we were off again, “Paddles up! Hooki!” This time, I had room in my head for thought. I thought about what Mom would have done if she had been given more time to live, if she had been given those 15 years to live life with good health instead of fighting her cancer. I thought, maybe she would have been brave and tried new things. Maybe she would have learned how to swim; gotten her driver’s license, even! Maybe she would have traveled to Hawaii and played in the ocean with her grandchildren. She spent so many years waiting to get better, and the next thing we knew, she didn’t get better. I could hear her, then, in my mind. She was whispering to me, “Don’t let your life pass you by. Try this new thing. Meet these new people. So you’re scared…when has that ever stopped a Hess? Did our dragging you all over this planet to countless new places not teach you anything, girl? Do you know how many strangers I have had to meet in my life? Don’t you remember how many scary things I have had to face? Do this. I’m with you. Look at your brave red shoes. Feel the air breathe into your two healthy lungs, be thankful. Feel your strong back and arms pull on that paddle, be thankful. Raise your face to the sky and feel the sun on your skin, be thankful.”

Those red shoes have been on my feet as I learned how to paddle, as I learned how to “Huli” (flip over, flip back, bail out, and keep going), and as I learned how to be brave on my own. One day, I heard, “Go, Mama, Go!” and looked up to see Markus and Simon cheering from the shore – my whole team laughed and I was so happy. One day I got into the canoe without any horrible bruising. One day my paddle finally entered the water without a splash. One day we were sitting in our canoes on a sea of glass, and a pod of whales swam by, spouting and breaching. And during every night practice, we would paddle into the sunset, and I would ask Mom silently, “What do you think of THAT? Can’t beat the Hawaiian sunset, eh?” All the while, I smiled.

That was three weeks ago. I have paddling practice 3 days a week. I can smile and chat with more than a few people on the team, and I feel strong and confident about this new skill. Sometimes Markus and the kids cheer from the shore, and sometimes I go alone – but I am not lonely when I go alone. I have purchased brand new clothing designed for being in a canoe and a wooden paddle of my very own. But my shoes remain the same. I still wear Mom’s old red beach shoes that are cut open on the top. They don’t match anything I wear to practice, but they are Mom, and she needs to come with me while I paddle out to sea. We have our first 10-mile race on May 13th. Go Mama, Go!

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Big Sis
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 09:22:30

    I do love this one.



  2. fantasyfurnace
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 06:28:22

    Nice Post! Clearly written from your heart…



  3. Gayle
    Jul 08, 2012 @ 03:22:07




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