How We’re Finding Hope for the Future in this Bittersweet Journey

By Dawn Graczyk, Sunshine Mom

The best stories make us feel. They include losses that make the gains more incredible. The stories that stay with us include struggle and hurt. And our story includes lots of that. But I need to take this a little farther, because I am also incredibly excited and happy for the things we’ve yet to do! 

I am grateful for the struggle and the hurt, because it has increased my compassion and joy. I hope this trip and the sharing of our story will do the same for others.

Recently Marissa said, “I don’t get it, Mom. I know I should feel happy, but I also feel sad. I don’t understand.”

Our experience on the road is difficult to put into words. The closest English word is probably bittersweet, but it feels clichéd and doesn’t do justice to the intensity of emotion we are feeling. 

A Japanese Word Says it Best

The inability to express myself, to make myself understood to others, is incredibly frustrating to me, so I scoured the internet for a word. I did not find it in English, but in Japanese, the word is natsukashii, which according to BBC future means: “a nostalgic longing for the past, with happiness for the fond memory, yet sadness that it is no longer.”

Natsukashii is as close as it comes to placing my emotions into word form, accounting for past and present, 

I am filled with joyful anticipation and hope for the next adventure; the next smiles on my daughters’ faces; the next peal of laughter. I am eager to make new friends and connections; to see what God has planned and what He provides; to see “impossible” shattered and walk right over it. 

And yet, I’m filled with longing for the past and sadness for the things that are over. I even begin to feel a tinge of anticipatory sadness, knowing there will be more goodbyes on this trip, and in the coming years. 

We won’t pass this way again, at least not like this. We say goodbye to places and friends, and this causes heartache. I look ahead and feel afraid. 

When Feelings Intermingle

I am learning that a heart that is truly open does not feel one thing at a time. Joy is not the same as happiness, and is present in the absence of happy feelings. Sadness and longing exist in a heart that is filled with love and contentment. We can be focused on the current moment and still feel the past and future. 

Our linear concept of time, our human perceptions, encourage us to place each emotion and experience into little boxes of appropriateness and time. I do not believe this can truly be done, or if it can, I haven’t learned how.I am being pulled in opposing directions at all times, longing for both past and present; sorrowful for and eager for each. 

Can great beauty be described? When we see and experience true beauty, doesn’t it spark conflicting emotions in us? When the sunset explodes in color, don’t we say it is “heartbreakingly beautiful?” When a new baby is born, don’t we shed tears of joy? The human heart does not consider sadness and happiness mutually exclusive. 

Knowing this trip is temporary, that we are transient and each stop has a very brief beginning and end, has made each stop more precious and fascinating.

Many days our story feels normal. It seems no less comedic or tragic than that of any other American. Other days, when I take time to ponder what is going on, I am shocked by just how unusual and difficult things have been; but the difficulty is what has opened me to see and feel the beauty. 

Knowing this trip is temporary; that we are transient and each stop has a very brief beginning and end, has made each stop more precious and fascinating. My eyes are open and scanning. I notice the purple lupine growing in the Maine ditches. I spot a bald eagle catching prey. I am awed by the change in scenery, even just the trees, from state to state. 

The existence of longing and sadness intensifies my happiness and excitement! The heartache I have experienced, and know I will experience again, has transformed my ability to feel and to see the world with wonder. 

I cry more than I ever have, because I am more deeply touched by what others might find ordinary. I have acquired a greater proclivity for heartache but gained compassion and love that I otherwise would have missed out on. 

Maine was Memorable

Today we enjoyed our time in Bangor, Maine. The weather was cool and grey, a wonderful break from the intense heat and sunshine of our other stops. We were provided with a tour of the area, author Stephen King’s hometown. Even though we didn’t meet him, we definitely felt Stephen King’s presence in the area. (More on that in my next blog post!) We were interviewed by local media and shared our story and Spreading Sunshine’s story. 

When this trip is over, I will have memories that will never leave. It will be natsukashii, a feeling of longing for a time past, but full of happiness for what has been. But it is more. My memories will exist next to create hope for the future. It will never be simple, and it will never be the same. It will be greater.

Click to learn more about Riding on Sunshine.

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