You are my sunshine

16 05 2011

We have the official document with the mayor’s signature and seal proclaiming November 8, 1996, as Jacob Damoff Day. There was a ceremony, dedicating the day and a new rehab wing in the nursing home to Jacob, and the mayor showed up and made the presentation herself. A gift among many gifts during those excruciating days — God reaching into our pain through the compassion of this community, calling us to see beauty and purpose even through the blur of our tears.

She gave our son his own day, and she gave us a much needed reason to smile.

I’ve seen her off and on since Jacob Damoff Day, and I saw her again last Friday at the gym with her husband. They both retired years ago, her from public service and him from a successful local business. He suffers with some form of age-related dementia now. I watched her retrieve his file from a cabinet, then lead him to a treadmill in front of my elliptical machine.

He smiled at me and asked where I was going, and I returned the smile. “Same place you’re about to be going,” I joked. “Nowhere fast.”

Undaunted by my pessimistic prediction, he started his machine and she stepped onto the next one, matching her pace to his. They walked silently side by side to a slow, steady rhythm, but they hadn’t gone far when he did what I would only dream of doing. He threw back his head and sang to the beat of his steps.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . .” he belted. If she was embarrassed, she didn’t show it. She turned her head — her in her bright yellow shirt and me thinking how very much she looked just like the words to that song — and she smiled at his childlike exuberance. And I, following right behind them in this serendipitous, stationary parade, alternated between sheer delight and a valiant effort to suppress the urge to sing harmony.

When he finished that song, he plunged right into, “Row, row, row your boat,” and followed that with a rousing rendition of “God bless America,” with the traditional crescendo into “my home, sweet HOOOOME” at the end.

I somehow managed to refrain from joining in, but I didn’t hold back my applause when he finished. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “Did you like that?”

“I loved it,” I said, my feet still pumping away. “It was amazing.”

He was quiet for a minute or two, and then he started again, this time mixing it up a bit with Row, Row, Row first followed by You Are my Sunshine and his go-to finale, the ever-stirring God Bless America. But then he surprised me and launched into a song in Spanish. He got about halfway through and stopped mid-phrase. She quietly coaxed him to try again, and he cranked it back up from the beginning with unwavering gusto.

I wish I knew how to describe the fullness of those moments. Why is it often the most heart-breaking realities that embody the most beauty? This life with its endless opportunities to die to self and then the glory hidden in the giving, a sweetness never tasted by those who refuse the cup. And for some reason I’m thinking of photographs I’ve seen on the obituary page — someone who died at 92, but the family chose to remember this moment captured long ago, when the hair was thick and dark, and the eyes sparkled with laughter and a lifetime of dreams still to come. It all makes me want to cry and hug the people I love and shed this ridiculous sense of propriety that keeps me from adding my voice to the song, because we only live once, and shouldn’t we live singing?

I joked about going nowhere fast, but maybe it’s not about going places or how fast we’re getting there. Maybe it’s about stooping low to give someone a day all his own, about holding someone’s hand and being someone’s sunshine and not being embarrassed by the gifts that make us slow down and see.

Maybe it’s about giving someone a much needed reason to smile, because you’ll never know, dear, how much I love you, unless I live it.

Giving thanks in community for:

#99 the privilege of living in community, joys multiplied and burdens shared
#100 this beautiful day and Jacob outside in a lawn chair, music in his headphones, his voice and hands raised high
#101 a sparrow tapping at the window, a reminder that I am seen
#102 good food, friendship, and laughter
#103 forgiveness and always another chance to learn love

To join the chorus of thanksgiving, visit Ann Voskamp’s site.


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20 responses

16 05 2011
Glynn

A former Louisiana governor sang his way into the governor’s mansion with “You Are My Sunshine.” I think I like this “recording” better.

16 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Glynn. 🙂

16 05 2011
Megan Willome

“because we only live once, and shouldn’t we live singing?”

My mother was that way. My daughter is now.

Thanks for helping me to appreciate them both this morning.

16 05 2011
jeannedamoff

I love that, Megan. How happy for you to be surrounded by singing on both sides!

16 05 2011
tinuviel

“This life with its endless opportunities to die to self and then the glory hidden in the giving, a sweetness never tasted by those who refuse the cup. ”

The last phrase there especially speaks to me and calls me toward courage.

Is the gym a “thin place” for you? No pun intended, sorry about that. I mean a place where God calls Himself to your attention more than at other places.

16 05 2011
jeannedamoff

So thankful that these words call you to courage, especially when it comes to trusting God to give you the cup that’s best.

That’s a good question about the gym. It’s definitely a place where my body is busy but my well-oxygenated mind is free to go wherever God leads. He often speaks to me there, but I’m beginning to notice that God speaks whenever I’m willing to pay attention.

Also, I like your unintended pun. 🙂

16 05 2011
HopeUnbroken

that was a really beautiful story, beautifully written. thank you for the sharing.

16 05 2011
jeannedamoff

You’re welcome. Thank you for your sweet comment.

16 05 2011
laura

I love seeing this in my mind’s eye. yes, I”m with the others. I think those folks were on the fast train to someplace that transcends our everyday lives. I love the way you see, Jeanne.

16 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks for seeing with me and loving the way I see, Laura. Likewise, my friend.

16 05 2011
Deborah Carr

“Maybe it’s about stooping low to give someone a day all his own, about holding someone’s hand and being someone’s sunshine and not being embarrassed by the gifts that make us slow down and see.”

There is such wisdom in your words…God has given you a full and tender heart. There is love and caring and humility between these lines. I learn more about you each week…and isn’t the sharing what makes the world a gentler place?

16 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Deborah, for these affirming words. I pray they are true. And, yes, the sharing beautifies everything. I’m certain we were made for it.

Love to you.

17 05 2011
tonia

I know I’ve said this before in one way or another, but it’s the proximity to brokenness that really transforms us into Christ’s likeness… I recognize that likeness every time I come here and I know you really KNOW.

In the last few weeks I’ve rubbed up against so much religion, so much hard and unyielding christianity – the kind that only knows “grace” as a theological definition. And yet I come here and find the breath of grace in every post, the love of Jesus in every word.

Just thanks…so much.

17 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Tonia. What a sweet gift to me, your words. I agree with you that God uses brokenness in a unique way. We would never choose it, but we won’t be conformed to His image without it. May we always remember that truth when the fires burn hottest.

I am so very fallible. The church is sadly fractured, and I know at times I have furthered the damage with harshly spoken, judgmental words. I also know how desperately I need grace. I’m a work in progress every bit as much as anyone I may disagree with. So, thank you for letting me know that you find grace and the love of Jesus here. That’s an answer to prayer and a mercy. God is so patient with me. May I always offer the same.

Much love to you.

17 05 2011
craig

Jeanne, today is one of those days for me where everything that could be going wrong is going wrong. I knew that I’d find solace in thank you lists. I knew, especially, that I’d heart yours. Finding meaning in and from the person who was going nowhere fast – I heart that. That by itself made me smile. But then, I got to pick from your list – a favorite – number 101 – a magical sparrow saying hello to remind you that you are seen! Thank you. I’m smiling. Job well done! And God bless you and all of yours this day.

17 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Craig, I’m so glad this story and the sparrow brightened your tough day. Thanks for letting me know. I hope tomorrow is much better. Blessings to you, too.

21 05 2011
Laudable Linkage « Stray Thoughts

[…] You are my sunshine. Sweet, tender. […]

21 05 2011
zena

‘Why is it often the most heart-breaking realities that embody the most beauty?’

this is the right question to ask it seems to me…

looking for an answer with you,
zena

21 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Dear Zena, the looking is a privilege, isn’t it?

(I added your blog to my reader today.)

Love, Jeanne

21 05 2011
zena

thanks jeanne.

that’s a good way to think about it – that the looking is a privilege.

~zena

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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