For some reason, its a concept that doesn't seem to permeate my steady state of consciousness. I forget all about it, and then suddenly, WHAM! - it smacks me on the forehead and I remember.
I remember that it doesn't have to be one or the other. It really can be both, you know. My marriage taught me that. Parenting taught me that. Winter reminds me. Christmas reminds me. My grandmother's birthday reminds me. My dogs, those present and those no longer with us, remind me. A lifetime of love and happiness and grief and loss.
Life can be simultaneously painful and joyful, both things can take your breath away and sometimes you won't know exactly what it is that makes your voice catch and your eyes swim with tears, but there you are in the middle of it all, feeling both. The emotional component of each is different, but the physical reaction can be the same.
Sometimes, during those years where the marriage cracked and crumbled and eventually dissolved, the feelings were so overwhelming that I wasn't sure what I was experiencing. Anger turned to sadness turned to grief; intermingled with these were the joy and the delight over those moments with my kids or with my friends or even with my husband on those days when we could connect in a meaningful way.
There were times when I though that all I was feeling was sadness. Or anger. Whatever the emotion du jour happened to be. And yet when I let myself just be, in the moment, I realize that emotions are not simple, primary-colored boxes of paint. They are complex, perhaps shaded darker by the strongest and deeper reaction to what's happening in my life, but many-colored, shot through with strands of the blackest black and silver shining light.
Maybe that's what my friend Charles was trying to tell me a few weeks ago. He gave me the analogy of a stack of paint cans - or the dead folks he talks to regularly gave me this analogy, whichever you prefer. He said that he could see the cans all toppling together and that it might seem like it was going to be a horrid big mess, but that in the end the colors would all turn out right.
Christmas and birthday, I've written about them before. My favorite and least favorite time of year, simultaneously.
Birthdays are, for most people, a time of celebration. At least until you reach the age which you never thought you'd actually reach, the age you consider to be "old," and then they lose their luster...but that's not the crux of the matter for me. Its the dichotomy presented by birth, a joyous occasion for most people, but not for everyone. My birth wasn't something that was celebrated, my birthday was a day that brings back painful memories for at least one person that I know of, and for me it was the day that I lost a mother and a family, but unknowingly got a chance at a life much brighter than would have otherwise been possible. Still, I cannot ignore the feeling of loss. The loss of what never was, what never could have been. I mourn the shadow birthmother, the one of my dreams who was perfect and loving in every way. She didn't exist, really, but in the fertile imagination of my growing-up years, she was a real as I am. So. Joy and sadness. Because I got that loving mother, I just had to wait a little bit for her, and then thirty or more years for events to unfold that allowed me to truly appreciate what an enormous break I managed to get.
Celebration and grief. Joy and sorrow. Forever entwined in every life. The joy of talking to a dear friend on the phone and catching up on life; the sorrow of her terminal illness makes every conversatio more precious. Finally really enjoying a relationship with a relative and realizing that the years left to have that bond with them are few. The satisfaction of watching your child teach himself to read, early, comingled with the frustration and sometime hopelessness of knowing the struggles that lay ahead because of his particular issues. The sweet piercing sensation you get when you look at your breathtakingly beautiful daughter; the tears you shed for her when someone at school whose opinion matters to her doesn't like her or treats her badly.
Watching them grow and succeed and stumble and fall, all at the same time. The utter beauty of this wrecking ball of emotions grabs me by the throat and will not let me go. I am shattered to the core by the depth of feeling we are capable of; no surprise, then, that I spend much of my life doing 'busy things' to avoid that bottomless well of emotion. Sometimes, though, I must remember to just sit and let the feelings come. Embrace them in all their beauty and their ugliness. Its what life is about. Sometimes the feelings are all we have.