Of Joy & Sorrow

At the end of my student teaching experience and just before graduation, my college relationship ended.  Although I knew the decision was right, at the time, like problems so often do, it seemed like everything fell apart around me.  The break up made me feel distant from the person I thought was my best friend, but also the friend group we shared.  Most of my close friends, outside of that group, had left Buffalo for other areas and opportunities, so I ended up feeling extremely lonely.  I had a supportive and thoughtful family, but this was still a very difficult time.  As I spent most days positive and helping pick other people up, it was difficult to see myself in a position of pathetic (near) helplessness.  (Don't worry, I'm better now, just needed to provide a little context.)

My mom, the sensitive, insightful, and thoughtful person she is, recognized all of this, even without me expressly stating it all.  One afternoon, she shared the following excerpt with me.  The powerful words moved me and helped me to look beyond how I was feeling at that time.  They helped me to see the human experience beyond the black-and-white beliefs I had always held.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Then a woman said, "Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow."

And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises

was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,
the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup
that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit,

the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find
it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that
in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow,"

and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board,

remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,

needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

It was from this work that I began to see life/ joy and sorrow/ relationships/ the world in a more abstract way.  I loved the image of sorrow carving out space for joy.  Never before had I imagined that these two opposites required one another.  Sure, I had read Emily Dickinson's "Water is taught by thirst" in high school, but these pairs, relying on one another, never seemed like to apply to my life.  Though I knew that change was ever-present, I hadn't before realized how interconnected each aspect of life/ each relationship/ each life is.

How often do we recognize the existence of these opposites in our own lives, but still just want the better of the two?  In my marriage vows, as I had heard on television and movies my whole life, I agreed to take the good with the bad (...the rich with the poor, the healthy with the sick).

Today, despite the sad beginning to this post, I felt like we could all use a reminder to take the good with the bad, the high with the low, the fun with the boring, the healthy with the ill, the joy with the sorrow.  Life will continue to pair these opposites together for us--we must be able to recognize, accept, and embrace their inseparable nature. 

Life will be that much more beautiful and meaningful (though not necessarily easier) when we work to experience it all fully, not just the "good" parts. 

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