Social media has this delightful little gimmick that reminds you of what you posted on this day in past years. All is well and good when the memory was a refreshing green smoothie enjoyed after a run. It’s a little tougher when the memory hits a raw spot in your heart.
Thomas Merton wrote that short of perfection, “created things do not bring us joy but pain. Until we love God perfectly, everything in the world will be able to hurt us. And the greatest misfortune is to be dead to the pain they inflict on us, and not realize what it is.” [New Seeds of Contemplation]
At times in my life I have been a walking paper cut and the world around me, a lemon. Yet the more I tried to run from pain, the more everything hurt. Merton had something to say about that, too. “Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture.” [Seven Storey Mountain]
Of all the more challenging feelings to feel, grief has snuck up on me the most. I mean, other emotions I can see coming. Can’t you? I can see anger coming a mile away. It has a slow warm up before it bubbles up and burns everyone. Confusion can be comical or horrible. But you absolutely know when you are confused. Cowardice presents a clear choice before I decide to tuck my tail and run. But grief. Damn grief. It sneaks up. And by the time you know what is happening it is up around your neck and you’re drowning. At least that is how it seems for me.
Grief doesn’t ask permission or knock. It just shows up unannounced like Cousin Eddie on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with its shitter full.
But what is the other option? To hide from grief? I have tried.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known sufferings, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” [Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss psychiatrist]
You know what the side effect is of avoiding negative emotions? The side effect is that soon you lose the ability to feel emotions on both ends of the spectrum. Soon all you can feel is a narrow field of emotions.
If you lose grief, you also lose bliss.
And bliss. Bliss is worth the wait. I haven’t had a lot of bliss, but just enough to know that I want to stick around the world feelings lots of feelings in case there is bliss in store for me again.