The baby was given two names at birth. Gene (her father was expecting a boy) and Dolores. And so began the life of Gene Dolores.
Raised in poverty, Gene Dolores had to leave school at twelve to work and help support her family. Serious health issues plagued her life, as did many tragedies. It would have been easy for her to dwell on her misfortunes and live her life according to her middle name – Dolores – the root of which means ‘sorrow.’ That was not the greatest of names for a sweet little baby girl.
We all know that there are times when life intervenes in our lives, happiness seems evasive and negativity overwhelms. But even in those moments, joy is there for us … to choose.
And, as the years passed, in spite of a life of poverty, tragedy and ill health, Gene Dolores learned that unlike happiness (a feeling), joy was a choice (a decision). Gene Dolores chose to live a life of joy and as she did, she slowly began to discover sadness and depression lifting at times and her life changing.
A gifted dancer, opportunity presented itself to her: an invitation to be on Broadway in New York City. There, Gene Dolores danced with Broadway and movie star Ray Bolger. Bolger recognized the “joy-within” Gene Dolores and was the first to call her “Joy.” It was a name she adopted for the rest of her life.
I never met Gene Dolores.
But I did meet Joy.
She was my mother.
Here we are, half-way to Christmas and today is the Third Week of the Season of Advent for many around the world whose theme is JOY. And yet, with so many dealing with reminders of the fragility of life … illness, sadness, depression, devastation, destruction, death, homelessness, addiction, the pandemic … bodies and souls are injured; families are shattered by grief, anger, shock, it’s not surprising that many ask … “Joy? How can there be joy?”
Perhaps the poem by the little girl who began life as Gene Dolores written on her 70th birthday who had changed her name to Joy yet continued to struggle with deep sadness, ill health and feelings of despair can encourage:
“Even though, at times,
it would appear I have almost nothing to be joyful about
and feel full of despair
as I begin to count my blessings
and feel grateful to God for even the smallest one
joy begins to permeate my being
and fill my heart.
It grows so quickly!
Even the troubles I am experiencing
have little power to depress or overwhelm me.
It is like a magic spring!
Always bubbling beneath the surface.
All it takes to make it appear and flood my being
is a conscious love for my Creator and a deep sense of gratitude
for permitting me to catch even the smallest glimpse of this wonderful JOY divine. <author: Joy Mack, June 10, 1985)
There are people in our own families, neighbourhoods, world who are in danger, homeless, dealing with grief, addicted, fearful of what tomorrow may bring.
Some of those are known to us.
Some are unknown to us.
They experience little – or no – joy.
On this Third Sunday of Advent – “Joy” Sunday – may we think of them.
In that ‘thinking of them’, in those prayers, may their spirit know they are not alone, and may they be given the courage they need to survive, to endure, to carry on and to experience “a glimpse of the Joy divine.”
May this, the Third Sunday of Advent, bring joy your way in gentle, unexpected and blessed ways.
This is a photo of my mother, Joy Mack and Ray Bolger together on the Broadway stage at the end of their dance number. Ray Bolger’s words on the back of this photo read:
To “Joy,” Here’s hoping I’m not too presumptuous. Best always. Ray Bolger
This “presumption” of Ray Bolger to call her Joy, began Mom’s journey from ‘sorrow’ (‘Dolores’) to ‘Joy.’ It was not something that came easily to her but as she learned about gratitude and began to refocus her life on her blessings, her final years found her to be a woman of much joy!
Apologies for the lack of quality in the photo – it’s a very old photograph. A treasure to be sure. 🙂