I planned to write about a spring break trip with my son that included a multi-day sea kayaking trip along barrier islands. Then I got a call from my mom. “We need you to come home,” she said.

I hung up, feeling like the moon had fallen out of the sky. I lived in the shadows, trying to pack the stuff we would need to help my parents as they stared down death, as they whittled down their possessions and shaped the contours of the rest of their life in a smaller home, into a more manageable situation.

That week I felt all the feels. Anger welled inside me. I blamed my parents for failing to plan, for getting into this mess in the first place. Other times I basked in gratitude that I could be there with them, to share this. Mostly sadness overwhelmed me – that they were getting older, that I am too, that nothing stays the same.

There were times when I just started crying and had to discreetly leave a conversation or room to find a space for loss.

The night of the so-called pink full moon, the first full moon of spring, I thought about the ocean camping I had given up to go home. I remembered the weeks of packing, my dry bags packed, of the go-to meals I’d planned for easy beach cooking, the navigational charts I’d bought and not used.

That’s when I found a sparkly purple hula-hoop. The moon cast so much light that I could see my tall shadow self, gyrating her hips, an image that made me giggle. For the first time that week I could see that alongside the heaviness of my parents’ struggles there was still the beauty of the full moon.

I’d heard the phrase “stubborn gladness,” but before that moment never appreciated that how sometimes we have to deliberately seek moments of lightness, that our bravest act is to cling to every simple act of whimsy.

For the rest of the week that purple hula-hoop accompanied me to the doctor’s office, to the lawyer’s office, and to run errands.  I snuck in hooping breaks while cleaning out the garage. 

I had set out to write a story about sea kayaking and thought I’d end up writing about death and loss. Instead, I found a purple hula-hoop that sometimes sparkles in just the right light and found a new narrative, one about the possibility to rewrite our own story at any point, to arrange the events of our lives in a way that tends toward light.

Sometimes remembering joy turns on the story we tell ourselves.