How I Learned to Live in a Tangle of Joy and Pain

Rebekah Taussig in Time Magazine:

It was a night in mid-April that I fell asleep to the phrase this is too hard pinging through my brain, and they were the first words to cross my mind when I opened my eyes the next morning. I texted my sisters: “Remember the easy days when it was JUST a baby and cancer???” I pulled myself out of bed, plopped heavily into my wheelchair and stared in the mirror with my fingers splayed across my growing belly. That day we had to decide if my partner Micah would start a second round of chemotherapy treatments that would weaken his ability to fight against this new virus if he caught it, or forgo the treatment and change his odds against cancer. Our baby would arrive in a few weeks.

That spring, as my feet and belly swelled, my classes of high school students pivoted to virtual learning. I scrapped the original plans and assigned personal essays. “Let’s bear witness to the here and now,” I said. “One day, we might even read these essays to our grandchildren.” I wrote alongside them as we journaled every day, paying attention to the details—snippets of dialogue caught at the dinner tables we were now sitting around, the exact flavor of the cinnamon rolls we finally had time to bake, our bodies’ reactions to sitting in front of screens for eight-plus hours a day. Tiny flashes of human experience in the midst of a global pandemic.

As soon as we started drafting our notes into essays, though, the plump, specific moments we’d documented flattened under the task of shaping them, and I noticed many of us pulling in one of two directions. There were the essays that skimmed the surface of loss—I’m bored; I miss soccer practice; when will this be over? And there were the essays of relentless positivity—I’m finally getting to spend more time with my family; I’m learning to be grateful for what I have; I’ve had time to make so many cool crafts. The angsty drafts didn’t reach complete catharsis, the uplifting versions didn’t quite offer hope, and all of us struggled to stay present with our words.

I was no exception. As soon as I tried to weave meaning from the tidbits I’d been gathering, I watched my words splinter on the page.

More here.