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A world within a world

Transitions take many forms. Old year to New Year. Winter now and soon spring. Birth followed by death.

For our family, 20 years ago, the holiday season began with a death that was quickly followed by a birth. We lost a family member and gained one. We lost love and fell in love.

The pre-Christmas death of my father-in-law two decades ago was followed, two days later, by the birth of our second grandchild. Spending morning hours in a funeral home and the afternoon and evening of that same day in a maternity ward is an unparalleled experience. It makes you a more thoughtful person — better able to speak to the circle of life. More sensitive, perhaps. But at that moment it just made us sad, and happy, all mixed together. And it made me very reflective — to this day.

Herbert Martin Johnson was a good and simple man whose life was not favored with grand success. But life brought him a fierce and loyal wife and four strong and caring children who held him in great respect and loved him with unfailing tenderness until the day he died. They love him still. Life brought him 15 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, a great-great-granddaughter.

The great-granddaughter, who was born as he died, is like him in many ways. She would have relished his silly jokes and his best-ever hugs and approved of his quiet way of marching through life.

Isabella Julianne struggled to come into her life, and once there she embraced it fully. She has strong and caring parents and a family that will hold her close forever. She, too, is loved beyond all reason and with unfailing tenderness. Family becomes dearer with this kind of experience. The sadness of death and the joy of birth all mixed together.

I think it’s best summarized in a poem written by my husband in 1967. "If people are the lifeblood of America, then family is the heart. Family is more than mother, father, sister, brother, it is a world within a world. Through babies’ eyes and helpless cries, we seek comfort-care, loving there — in the family."

As we transition into a new year, things feel more transitional and perhaps more unsettled than ever before. I believe our "world within a world" — our families — are the eyes of God smiling on us and offering us a hand of support. Whether your family is traditional or non; whether your family is near or far, newly constituted or mourned in death, with fervent realization I say to you, hold them dear.

A cherished friend gave me a book for Christmas years ago titled “Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems and Meditations from Around the World.” I love this book. There is an introduction by the Dalai Lama. And there is a meditation on page 198 that speaks to my heart.

"It seems to me that the whole secret of life, if it is to be happy, is in the spirit of love, and when an old form of love dies, we must take on the new. If life is to be made interesting and worth its breath, we must look at ourselves as growing children, right up to the end of our days." Amen.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@ gmail.com.