Pause for Joy [a rejected essay]
I submitted an essay to a publication on Tuesday. Today, two days later, I received the rejection email. (So quick!) Although it didn't make the cut, I was pretty proud of it, so I decided I'd share it here. It forced me to think outside the box, and writing it even brought me to tears (emotion droplets).
The prompt was that I had to use these three words: pinecone, fugitive, and swing set.
I present to you ... *drumroll* my self-published essay, Pause for Joy.
“Ready. Set. Go!” my husband, Ramón, announced.
We took off down a quiet street, each dribbling a pinecone we’d hand-selected for our impromptu foot race. Whoever made it to the stop sign first won.
There were two main strategies at play. The first was to kick the pinecone with all our might, then race to catch up with it. An errant kick could set you back, but a flawless kick could almost guarantee a win. The other strategy was to keep the pinecone close, which helped maintain control but required more coordination.
After several lead changes, plenty of expletives, and one cheering neighbor, the race was too close to call. Ramón, being a lawyer, argued with me about technicalities. Me, being me, mimed my victory celebration, thanking the crowd and accepting my medal.
Ramón was 38 years old, and I was 31 — yet we were children at heart as we competed for pinecone race bragging rights.
We were full of joy.
My finicky lungs made it difficult to run. I was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), and symptoms include frequent coughing and breathing difficulties. I could usually keep up with my peers in childhood. But, as my lung issues worsened over the years, running became more challenging. I had fallen behind.
In the 1950s, people with CF rarely lived to start elementary school. By the time I was born in the 1980s, the life expectancy was between 16 and 18 years.
So, in many ways, it felt like I was always on the run — trying to outpace death. Each birthday made me more of a fugitive, certain I was on the verge of being caught. I did my best to fly under the radar, afraid that one misstep could mean death was at my heels.
Fueled by fear, I struggled to slow down. But it turns out busyness leaves little room for joy.
Joy lives in the pauses.
When I encountered moments of joy, I wanted to save them. I sought to memorialize my point of view in a way that would enable me to time travel. If I safely stored those memories, I might be able to relive them — even down to Ramón’s specific facial expression.
In one photo of joy, we’d been celebrating my nephew’s third birthday at a backyard cookout. I joined my nephew on the swing set underneath the blue sky and sunshine. As he reluctantly took trips down the slide, I headed toward a swing. My hips immediately ached as I settled into the child-size swing.
I laughed as I gained momentum, pumping my legs as I reached toward the clouds. Ramón sat in an Adirondack chair, facing the swing set, and sipping on a beer. He wore mismatched clothes, as he often did, yet somehow he made them work. This particular day, he wore busily patterned shorts, a striped T-shirt, and a fedora he’d bought in a gift shop on our first trip together.
When I made it back to earth per my hips’ demand, I lightheartedly snapped a photo of Ramón.
I wanted to preserve that moment of joy.
Then came the ultimate pinecone race — the one we didn’t choose to participate in. This time, though, the finish line wasn’t at the stop sign. Instead, now Ramón and I both were running from death. CF chased me as leukemia breathed down Ramón’s neck. But we didn’t pick up speed. In fact, we slowed down.
Then we stopped. We paused.
We sat with the fear rather than trying to outrun it.
And I was shocked by how much joy could fit within a tiny hospital room. We playfully argued over who was sicker. We made each other laugh with ridiculous “Jeopardy!” guesses. We read the hospital menu over and over, concocting the strangest meal combinations.
This mandated pause led to the most joyous months of our life together.
Words could never convey how deeply I miss Ramón. What I would give to capture one more snippet of joy to carry in my heart.
Despite my sadness, I’m no longer a fugitive. I don’t feel the compelling urge to flee death anymore. Why run from something inevitable?
Sometimes going fast only blurs your vision, leaving you unable to appreciate the joy along the way.
So now I walk — not away from death, nor toward it.
I walk alongside it.
And together we pause to embrace each moment of joy.