It is the first day of spring, and somewhere in North Georgia, a newborn baby named Joy is drawing her first breaths. She was born late on Friday evening, only hours before springtime.
So even though, yes, this has been a year of hard times, as of right now: Joy is here.
Which is why Joy’s mother thought this particular name was perfect for her child, especially considering the non-joyful period in which the baby was born. Right now everyone could use a little Joy.
“I feel like we’re living through history,” says Joy’s mother, cradling her child, speaking to me via cellphone. “I want my daughter to grow up knowing that she is a huge joy during this time.”
And so it is that Joy will have some very big things to do in this world. She will make this universe more cheerful. She will do this by eating lots of pureed food, giggling a lot, and wearing lots of expensive baby onesies which she will joyfully fill with poop.
Meanwhile, over on the Kansas-Oklahoma line, the first day of spring will be greeted by Mark and his son, Patrick. They are taking a fishing trip. They are visiting Mark’s family pond, which has been around since the late 1800s, fed by a large creek.
“The fish rarely bite there,” says Mark. “But that’s not why we go.”
Mark remembers fishing here with his father as a child. And, he also remembers taking his father fishing here shortly before the old man died from prostate cancer 12 years ago.
Mark himself was diagnosed with cancer last year and it has been a familiar, arduous battle. Treatment after treatment has weakened him. But unlike his father, Mark is winning.
“All I could think about when I was in treatment,” says Mark, “was taking my son fishing. It’s everything. That’s why we’re going.”
Now let’s go to Virginia Beach for a moment, where Mariposa and her adult daughter Tiffani will also be welcoming in spring together. They are going to run their own two-person half marathon on Sunday.
They originally wanted to run an organized race last spring, but then the pandemic happened, and many races were cancelled. So Mariposa and her daughter have had nothing better to do all winter than to keep jogging together.
“I’m 62,” says Mariposa, “and I’ve always wanted to run a half marathon, so I’m like, ‘Hey, you know what, why wait any longer? Let’s go for it this weekend.’ And since there are no races, we’re just gonna do our own mother-daughter thing.”
They will begin at 5 A.M. If you see two semi-identical brunettes jogging on a Virginia beach road, make sure you honk and wave like a maniac.
They will be running in memory of Mariposa’s late son, who ended his own life last year.
Over on the Oregon coast, about 2,988 miles west of Mariposa and Tiffani, we meet James, who will be celebrating six months of sobriety this spring.
James emailed me last year when he first decided to enter treatment for drug addiction.
“In a way this pandemic saved me,” he says. “I woulda never known what kinda demons I was struggling with if things hadn’t gotten bad.”
It has been a slow journey to recovery, he adds. And he’s still at the beginning stages. But in his last message to me, he says, “They teach us to celebrate the milestones, no matter how small. I don’t have many people in my life to be proud of me, so I just thought I’d tell you.”
James, allow me to be the first to say: I am so proud it hurts.
And we close with Myra in South Texas. On Monday she is beginning a new job. A good job. It’s a job she has always wanted, a job she never thought she’d get because Myra has a sketchy past.
She has a rap sheet from her high-school days that returns to haunt her whenever she fills out a job application.
Myra says, “Usually, as soon as any employer sees my record, and the things I done when I’s a kid, they always say ‘Sorry, girl. Don’t let the door hit you where the dog bit you.’”
But as of last month, Myra’s application was accepted. Her new supervisor welcomed her aboard, saying, “I have a past just like yours. And I wouldn’t be where I am today if someone wouldn’t have given me a second chance.”
Myra is making a clean start. Her salary will jump to three times what it was last year when she was working as a hotel maid. She is celebrating this week by purchasing ribeye steaks for herself and her four kids.
When we talked over the phone I could hear excitement in her voice. “I haven’t eaten steak since before the pandemic,” she says with a laugh. “I feel like I’ve been given a new life.”
And so today, if the heaviness of our previous winter has left your heart feeling cold; if your sky looks about as friendly as steel and your soul is iced over; if the world feels like it’s off-kilter; if the talking heads on cable news channels, who chew the same cud day after day, are insisting that evil is on the rise, that hatred is swallowing us alive, and there is nothing wonderous left in this world; do not give up. You must believe in spring.
For even though this past year has been perhaps the worst of our lives, history is not finished with us yet.
Because as of right now, Joy is here.