She was the class jester. She spewed an unlimited supply of funny remarks which always made perfect humorous sense. Classmates enjoyed her antics, authority figures tolerated them, siblings acknowledged them, and she thrived on that reputation. She was the class jester. On her tombstone, that would not be appropriate.
Fancy free, irreverent, and never quite serious about anything; that’s how Joy appeared in high school. Many of us groaned about academics, aimed to be active in school organizations, complained about parents, or agonized about boys. Joy happily goofed around, taking pity on the likes of us who took things too seriously.
Five years of continued togetherness bonded our class through the pivotal transition of adolescence. We were not easy to handle especially when we got to senior year – the level of high school gods. Solidarity gave us a smug attitude that questioned rules. We had a swagger that screamed, “First show us the value of doing something before we do it.” The teachers were tolerant but were visibly exasperated by our “Why?” or “Why not instead…?” Perhaps they glimpsed our potential for developing into grounded adults with strong opinions not easily swayed. There was no shortage of tension between our class and teachers, between our class and another class, or among cliques in our class.
In the hormone-charged atmosphere of high school, Joy’s one-liners or gesture-rich interjections diffused many a tense situation leaving tears of laughter that cleared our vision to find resolution to conflict. Joy was carefree. She was above and beyond conflicts.
Time skyrockets after high school. You blast off and find yourself light years away and on a different planet. College has a totally different flavor and then life begins in earnest with a series of crossroads leading to unseen paths and more decisions. Should I shift my studies? Is it necessary to complete college? Am I ready to leave home? Should I work in another company? Do I need a Master’s Degree? Should I accept an overseas assignment at the risk of ending this relationship? Is this the person I will begin a family with? Am I better off single? Which one of us will stop work to care for the children? Is this partnership destructive? Is separation better for everyone? Will I manage on my own?
You have evolved as much from the paths you have rejected as from those you have embraced. There is no going back. High school is a distant memory.
And then, I got together with a handful of old classmates and it’s like returning to school after summer break. Eons and light years melted away with every squeal, every shriek of happy connection. Conversation flowed without effort–about work, taking care of aging parents, rearing teenagers, online courses, assorted medical conditions, great vacation spots, hair coloring products, exercise, healthy recipes and of course, high school days–all mingled with irrepressible laughter. Joy’s stories elicited the loudest bursts of laughter. Her title of class jester was unchallenged .
Unlike high school, we now have battle scars from life, quietly borne or proudly shown off like medals, proof of having lived through paths we have chosen, decisions we have taken.
Between anecdotes, we learned that Joy was not as carefree as she looked in high school. She too had her disappointments, fears, and dreams like many of us, but some teachers dismissed her as not serious enough. I realized that her funny remarks and interjected questions likely came from a unique way of seeing things – a creative, out-of-box perception that deviated from the norm. Today, we accept and celebrate a child’s individuality but back in the 70’s, non-conformity was thought of as not ready or not serious enough. Joy beamed as she spoke of her grandson’s advanced children’s class and of how she explained the value of of education to him. A few anecdotes later, it became apparent that Joy outranked us all in life’s battle scars. Her life had not been easy; had in fact been very difficult yet there she was, showering us with her unlimited supply of laughter and humor.
Less than a month after that precious meeting, Joy passed away following heart surgery. Her family was with her, her friends rallied around her, messages poured in from faraway places, but we were all powerless in holding on to our brave jester.
At her funeral, my eyes kept resting on her daughter Abby’s soft, wavy curls, definitely Joy’s hair now passed on to her granddaughter too. Her husband’s bereavement was profound. They had shared many years of seemingly insurmountable trials, particularly for Joy. A church friend spoke with warm fondness. One sister spoke with some exasperation over her stubborn streak. Her brother-in-law spoke with much regret at not having gotten to know Joy better. Her easy laughter and humor was the common thread in their sharing.
The pastor was entertaining but I had to smile in approval when Joy’s grandson asked his mom in a loud whisper, “Are they done yet?” I imagined Joy sitting on the nearby bench swinging her legs idly and making humorous observations. The image eased the tightness in my chest somewhat as I dropped a flower into her grave to bid goodbye to Joy.
Joy had engaged life fully and accepted even the painful pickings. She was uncomplaining and chose instead to wear her battle scars under a light coat of laughter. Those whose lives she touched have been made infinitely richer. She was Joy, the class jester.
JOY – that by which she was called was also her gift to the world.
That sounds about right … even on a tombstone.