Category Archives: Joy

Kahlil Gibran and the Dead Fish

Soft sobs emanated from my daughter’s room this rainy morning. Her beloved Beta lay on his side at the bottom of the tank. We knew he was old. We knew he wasn’t well. So we were “prepared” like our culture says we should be…like expecting a loss would somehow make it better.

As I held my daughter in my arms, as she cried, I thought of what I could say to make it better. Again, it feels like that idea is more a cultural norm. For what could anyone say that could ease the pain of loss. A quiet presence is needed…coupled with a willingness to do something hard: enter into the silence of sadness, even if it is just for a few minutes. Just be there. Let it penetrate the heart, like a storm surge over the emotional boundary levy of the heart… the one that most of us have constructed against the pain and horror of this world. But that is not what usually happens. We raise a hand to suffering and say, “You shall not pass.”

But what does keeping out this metaphorical sea actually accomplish?

For me it has, ironically, kept me from life. I was raised to avoid the sad and the tragic, even though, right within my immediate family, there was heart-breaking dysfunction.  I am not sure why this seems to be the way of things. Maybe when there is so much incomprehensible woe, you just disassociate from it. However, regardless of the emotional content of my childhood, the result was that I interfaced with life quite superficially. Life on the surface is not much of a trip. The deep is where the wonder is.

Just think about it, if a person’s guiding, albeit unconscious, philosophy is to avoid pain at all costs, look what is lost. Relationships with others are most definitely on the block. For there is no other place fraught with more suffering than the commitment to love someone in all their imperfection. Also what about risk? It is the essential element  in having a dream. What then? Can great things be accomplished if risk is reduced to a background buzz? Yes, it is true that there is safety, but what kind of life is safeguarded? Is it something transcendently beautiful, like the soulful strains of a cello, or the orange-pink of a morning sky? No, it is a life of  protected routine  that never allows for the sweetness innate in every soul to emerge. Kahlil Gibran said that our capacity to feel joy in life was directly proportional to our capacity to feel pain. I wonder in our society, if some of the great tragic sweeps of serious psychological hurt might be displaced, somehow, if we as a culture, made some  sacred space for sadness, instead of always trying for “happy” all the time?

Kahlil also says:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

So back to the dead fish. As I held my sweet girl, I thought of this to say:  “He was probably the most loved fish in the world. Most people don’t even care about a little fish, but you did, and he knew it.” When my daughter would place her finger on his tank, he would come. There was a connection between two living beings. Life happened. It wasn’t safe, for as Antoine de Saint Exupery says in The Little Prince, you risk tears when you love. But it was life because there was depth and meaning present…”mattering” was there. It was one of those Gibran daily miracles. That fragility of loving something, knowing consciously that it is indeed ephemeral, that it will die, or leave, and then defiantly loving it all the same, is life. And it can hurt. But it is also sweet…it is poetry…it is the heavens touching our plasticy, costumed existence with such luminous beauty.

Who would have thought there was so much in the little life of a fish.

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Filed under Children, Dreams, Healing, Joy, Loss, Love, Pain, Perspective

The Wanna-Be OCD

I hate to have my visual field cluttered. I adore neatness.

I longingly look at Simple magazine’s fresh, bright, tidy, well-lit photos of stacks of multicolored sweaters. I relish the sharp images of clean drawers with neat little open-topped boxes holding a bevy of push-pins, paper clips, carefully sharpened pencils, and cleverly designed post-its, all at the ready for the oh-so-organized gal. I have shamelessly poured over Pottery Barn catalogs with their charming linens, plump sofas, and tight little work stations where each late model piece of technology is housed in some charming, yet intelligently designed piece of furniture.

In fact the first time I went to France, what I adored most of all was the sumptuous order. Every Quarter had its Marche with its symmetrical stacks of oranges and apples, where ordinary items some how magically transformed into art. And the boulangeries perfuming the air with the comfort and wellbeing found in an end of warm baguette, well let’s just say, it was a spiritual experience.

I would long to wash my car with all the proper tools as Martha Stewart outlined in her “how-to” meditation on the joys of a  owning a sparkling vehicle. And most of all, I would love to be able to read Suzy Orman’s financial advice and to have actually been smart and saavy enough to be in a place to follow it.

However, this is not my life.

I have a big black Durango that needs a new engine, collecting something way beyond dust, sitting in my carport. It is kept company by a stack of firewood, tools, wetsuits, and surfboards on one side, and on the other, the wood needed to complete the interior of our boat project…some day. Our house tips slightly down the hill and when it rains outside, our living room has precipitation as well. My laundry room, I am not sure that I am emotionally well to talk about my travails in that four by four cell, but let’s just saying is my Saint George and the Dragon experience amongst the suds and dirty underwear. And there are super-sized dust bunnies that appear each night after I swear that I have swept or vacuumed them all into oblivion. Our living situation is a mess. And as much as I have tried to order it, three children, the strain of our unrealized dream, and the work load my husband and I take on to survive, has left little time and absolutely not a cent, to contribute to a finer exterior.

So, where am I taking you with this little journey through my mind and my carport? It is this: it dawned on me, a short while ago, after a long time of being mad, sad, and everything else in between, that my life looked bad on the outside, but like those knobbly geodes, was a glittery splendor within.

Just for starters, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to heal from many emotional hurts and dysfunctions. I have witnessed my son’s hard fight out of  what we thought would be a perpetual cycle of depression. I have seen two brothers once divided by hurt and hate, facing life as a united front. And then there is this little sparkling star of girl, whose wisdom, grace, and self-effacing humor touch my heart in ways words cannot describe. You know when we were all in the throws of my oldest son’s depression, complete with meds, a shrink, and all, she said, in her eight year old voice, “Mama, he doesn’t need drugs, he needs love.” She was right. We were given the grace to let go and begin to love this prince of a boy for who he was, not who we felt pressed for him to be.

One night when I was almost too overwhelmed to take another step, my 15 year middle son took me by the arm and led me outside to look at the stars and reminded me, with wisdom beyond boyish bracy self, that it was a choice to be happy and a good look at the stars on any given night was a good enough start.

And then there is my sweet noble husband, who has endured so much for being true…for not caving in to the many pressures men undergo on this plant. He is Lord Aragorn in world of Costcos, Starbucks, and televised talking heads. We have learned to be gentle with each other in our weakness and stupidity, while still admiring the grace and wilted beauty of  lives marred from living under siege for so long.

So yes, there is that whisper that wishes for external order and loveliness, but I would not trade a well manicured lawn and freshly painted exterior for the lovely garden cultivated within.

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Filed under "Looking within", Children, Healing, Joy, Perspective

Life in Photos

Last night, cell phone in hand, I scrolled through the last six months of events in my children’s lives while waiting for my oldest son to come home. A normal activity, right? Yet there was this sadness present, and at this point in my life, I am turning on a heel and facing it. Why am I melancholy?

The reality hit me. Although photos held documentation of a happy life,  it was a life only viewed as such after it had already safely happened. However, when those events occurred in real-time, I could not enjoy them, because of the wispy presence of fear…fear of accidents and death, of no money, of work not yet completed, of not fitting into my jeans…the list could go on. Most of the time I don’t even know what it is, but like perturbation in astronomy, where an object’s orbit is altered by either a seen or hidden object, my life shifts and the implicit joy is dulled to a sepia tone.

It was clear to me. I have to face this guy, fear, and how he has been such a thief of my beautiful moments. I still feel him right now…we have monetary dysfunctions and although we have never not had them, I still let such thoughts frost bite my sweet oranges.

But maybe not today.

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Filed under Courage, Fear, Joy