Joy and Pain are Tangled Up Together


Sometimes, we need a reminder of what really counts. Take today. Cherry blossoms drop gently to the sidewalk in Vancouver. I want that. It’s April after all.

Here in Ottawa, we have ice rain; thunderstorms;  falling branches from the weight of the ice;  power outages; collisions and my car is encased in ice. I don’t want that.

Still, I am warm and dry and have had the company since 3:30 of my 12-year-old grandson. This is good.

But there is more. Someone I love to the moon and back, was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. She and all of us have been waiting for the results of the CT scan since Monday morning. With each hour we grow more agitated. Why aren’t we hearing anything? How inconsiderate! It seems like an eternity. It is bad enough to have cancer and now we wait to hear if it has spread. I don’t like this either.

I did get distracted by the banner photo taken by my daughter from her office window and tidied up by her brother in Vancouver. And I admit, in spite of myself, that there were some striking, glistening scenes outside every window. Still, joy was in scarce supply today.

It’s Relative

Still, as I selfishly moaned about the inclement weather in April, my sweet relative was having sleepless nights waiting to get a CT scan back. Has her cancer metastasized or is it confined to the original site? This answer makes all the difference.

At 7:00 this evening she got the call. It is confined to the original site. We went from the devastation that she has cancer to the joy that it is highly curable. The pain of the cancer diagnosis has shifted already. Not because it isn’t serious, shocking, hard, and life-threatening. But it hasn’t spread. And there is a treatment available that works well.

Now we are filled with relief and joy. Yes, joy. I could care less about the weather. It doesn’t matter anymore. Joy and pain are relative.

Inciting Joy






Coincidentally I recently started reading, Inciting Joy,  the best-seller by poet and essayist, Ross Gay.

Within the first four pages, he writes this:

“But what happens if joy is not separate from pain? What if joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another? Or even more to the point, what if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through these things? (my italics) What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces ( the action or process of developing and unfolding as if coming into flower) from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks?”

I find these three lines filled with hope and kindness and wisdom. None of us are going to escape suffering. The good fortune to have people we love, who we are able to care for, in their time of need, is a great gift. This has nothing to do with advocating suffering and sorrow. Rather it is about acknowledging it as a fundamental part of life and not hiding from it. In fact we can consider, as Ross Gay suggests, that “joy can emerge from sorrow. It might draw us together…and help us survive. It’s why I think of joy, which gets us to love, as being a practice of survival.”


If you have not been to a cancer centre it may surprise you to hear the laughter and experience the joy along with the tears that go on there. It has nothing to do with being positive or ignoring hardship and suffering but is way more about not doing it alone. It is life-giving!

And with this note, I will close. My wish is that everyone waiting for results gets them soon. They won’t all be what we want. Some will be bad and some will be worse. But don’t go it alone. It is no time to be a stoic. We need each other. We are in this together.

I posted this poem back in October but I want to do so again because it is in keeping with this post today.





For When People Ask by Rosemerry Whatola Trommer  (thanks to the poet and

I want a word that means
okay and not okay,
more than that: a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
I want the word that says
I feel it all, all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
singing only one note at a time,
more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
and simultaneously
two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
that gives the impression
of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands swirl,
how the churning of opposite feelings
weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
blesses us with paradox
so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
this world so ripe with joy.


1:) I dedicate this song to Sonya, my cousin, who is a ray of sunshine and to my grandson Rowan who taught me this song when he was in Grade 1.

You Can Count On Me

2:) Beautiful cherry blossoms from the west coast. Not sure which one of us took this photo.

3:) Making Art is Good For Your Health NPR

4:) For those of you who honour Passover or Easter may you enjoy these significant days.

5:) Spring is coming; information does get to us; healing takes time; all of our relationships take care; curiosity; tenderness; time; forgiveness and courage. And a little love and kindness go a long way. Something like my favourite Haiku by Issa:

Little snail

Slowly, slowly

Coming Mt Fuji


Thank you for reading my scribblings. All my best wishes for a good weekend, Trudy



10 replies
  1. Judy Bernstein
    Judy Bernstein says:

    This piece totally hit home for me as tests and waiting for results have been my life since December. An emotional roller coaster. Yes family and friends share the ride but it is my ride. 💕

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Oh Judy. Waiting is the worst!!I’m so sorry to hear this. And you are so right that it is your tide. No substitutions allowed. Will hopefully see you soon. Best wishes,Trudy

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you Sue. I love that poem and it resonates with how I see things. I’m pleased that you like it too. Big hugs, Trudy

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Dear Janice thank you. I loved your poem this week and especially the passage you linked to. Being human can be complicated, messy and wondrous. And so glad we have had and still having a chance to participate. Love, Trudy

  2. Patti+Morris
    Patti+Morris says:

    Oh Trudy … I have just been reading and savouring a passage from a book called Bittersweet that has some connection to your note about interplay of joy and sadness: “Poignancy, is the richest feeling humans experience, one that gives meaning to life – and it happens when you feel happy and sad at the same time. It’s the state you enter when you cry tears of joy – which tend to come at precious moments suffused with their imminent ending. When we tear up at the beloved child splashing in a rain puddle, we aren’t simply happy: we are appreciating, even if it’s not explicit, that this time of life will end; that good times pass as well as bad ones; that we’re all going to die in the end.” Thanks for always sharing the most thoughtful and though-provoking words … at precisely the right time, Trudy. With hugs.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      This is beautiful Patti. Thank you so much for sharing these words. I had to return Bittersweet to the library untead and put it on hold again. This passage is even more of an incentive. I appreciate the essence of all that you have shared and continue to share with me and others.A deep bow to you and the author Susan Cain. With love, Trudy

  3. Janet Vickers
    Janet Vickers says:

    Sadness at hearing the news and learning how so many people suffer through injustice. Sadness that humanity has branded the planet by its own interests. Joy that I have my husband to care for me, keep me in good spirits by reading and watching amusing and uplifting TV programs. And while little things such as collecting breakfast plates from my bedroom takes so long to do and the day goes by so quickly, I am not in physical pain.

  4. Jean
    Jean says:

    The thing ,for me, in our family, is to see the joy too,in the midst of waiting for results of a cancer test for my brother in law.Long weekends are wonderful, except when waiting for health test results. Little snail… slowly, spring cleaning and waiting for the snow to melt. Enjoy your Easter weekend,dear friend.


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