Tag Archives: patience

The Shadow Side of Joy

Last night I was visiting family, and we decided to watch what would turn out to be one of the most suspenseful movies we’ve seen in a long time. Why? Well, the major problem turned out to be that nothing went wrong.

First of all, three very young children set out to maneuver a rickety homemade raft across a lake … and none of them drown. There was a very old, arthritic dog … that didn’t die. Two of the lead characters, an African-American man who used a wheelchair and an able-bodied white woman who lived in the deep south … did not experience any challenges or conflicts in their evolving relationship, and fell madly in love within three months of meeting each other. Disagreements, when they did arise, … only brought people closer together.

The longer the banal plot line of the story stretched without a crisis, the more agitated we became. Then it happened: our groaning complaints about the lack of riveting action (I.E. terrible stuff befalling people) turned into hesitant, nervous exclamatory pleas for an unknown and obviously hostile future to please not dump its doom onto these people whose lives were so precariously prosperous. “Oh god, I won’t be able to handle it if that dog dies.” “Those kids are going to drown, I just know it.” “Someone’s going to get their heart broken and be emotionally shattered.” “I can’t take it! What if…” …

I sat there eating popcorn, reflecting as if from a distance on how absurd human beings, including myself, can be. (I admit to feeling just as threatened by all that good fortune, which was obviously going to turn out to be too good to be true.) What a fascinating phenomenon, to expect vicarious terror to temporarily take us out of ourselves, only to realize that we are terrified to feel joy. Suddenly, the movie seemed far more interesting, not because of what was happening in it, but because of what was happening to us. The characters’ happiness grew in direct proportion to our misery. Our own fears prevented us from sharing in their happiness.

We know life is ephemeral, that time is fragile, that change is inevitable. We’ve been prepared, to the best of human ability, to respond in a crisis of tragedy. But we barely recognize the crisis we experience when we are surrounded by love and truly feel at peace. We grow up expecting the next shoe to drop, the next tragedy to hit.

At least I did. I remember a particular day when I was about to graduate from Stanford. I felt completely at home in myself and completely content where I was. As far as my twenty-two-year-old self was concerned, I could be a student with this wonderful group of friends in this beautiful city, living in the space between the potential of a dreamed future and the lived experience of launching it, for the rest of my life. I was caught in an experience of pure joy at what was the case, this very moment. I loved it all. And then someone reminded me of the impending changes I would soon be facing, that all my friends would leave and that there were many rough, gnarly, tragic, and potentially devastating moments to come in my future, and I was an anxious terrified mess for months afterward.

That person was absolutely right. I probably don’t even have to tell you of how, in those subsequent ten years, I have lived through strained awkwardness, gnarly situations, terrible grief, gnawing loneliness, discrimination, pain. I could go on, but adversity befalls every life. The question is not, ‘how can I prevent suffering from ever happening?’ The question is, ‘Why let the fear of inevitable, yet unpredictable suffering silence my laughter, stifle my wonder, strangle my joy, stop me from reaching out in love and cause me to withdraw and close down instead?’

Why, indeed. Bitterness is child to a constricted soul who shies from the vulnerability needed to love and be loved, out of fear of the risk of being hurt. People who can’t experience their own joy because they so fear the potential immanent loss of the good all around them, come to resent and compete with those who seem to be able to fully take in moments of connection and contentment. And how can you author your own life if you allow yourself to be ruled by the tyranny of anticipation and your current fictions about the future?

You can’t, of course. You might be so worried about the possibility that something might happen to your kids that you fail to fully be present as you tuck them into bed at night. You might be so afraid of losing a dog or a cat that you only realize after they’re gone how you could have fiercely loved them, but held back instead. Most of us don’t ever fully realize how many beautiful, vibrant, cherished moments we miss while we’re preoccupied with fears of what isn’t there.

We learn to embrace–accept, acknowledge, attend to– the shadows of our soul, our inner children, our false beliefs, the fragmented rejections we sometimes glimpse in the mirror. And yet I am left wondering, long after the movie ended, what would happen if we learned to hold a compassionate space for the shadow side of joy. I wonder about the freedom in finally being seen, the strength born in a person when the risks in reaching out are worth every second of being fully alive.

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Dream-Bitten 1998

Shallow the water from which I came,
Still earth, waits, to receive my trial-errored body

Dropped like a star falling
I concentrate dizzily on balance.

Like mistletoe around the oak,
You leave me dream-bitten.

I belong to time’s entropy,
And to spirit-kin, wild, wild, wild.

You say to wait… passion pooling within the hopeful ones, …
Plunged back into black holes. I wait to be whole.

Into infinitudes of time,
Cornered by curiosity,

I discover, I almost remember,
The deer run, bear skin, wolf-wild world rewandered.

Happiness halts along a dilapidated road,
And a lighthouse lurks,

Star-crimson among
Fog’s shining shadows.

Silence pierces perfectly cold loss,
Dare I soar to drift through evanescent light,

Scampering effortlessly,
A lonely light beam traveling.

So much left behind among the waves,
To a desolate world, vailed in endless tears,

Wrapped within the spiraled coils,
You fix me with beady eyes,

And with the dawn, unknown longing,
You leave me dream-bitten.

A Grad Student’s Lament: Take an Extra Year to Graduate, They Say

Why do the tears fall?
But can I find that someone to love
In this world, anyone at all?
Until the storms finally abate,

Until the next year I wait
Until the way is clear
Until I finish the life chapter I am living here.
But I’m surprised how much I care

Because I am enough in myself, I’m not searching for another half
But behind these four walls there is not much of a chance
To meet anyone my age,
Let alone a partner in the dance.

Saying I would wait until I graduate
And suddenly twelve more months were written on an emailed page
Three times six the months until perhaps I’ll share
With someone a life, together make our way.

Not wanting a distraction
Not wanting to be unprepared,
Not wishing to lose track of the dream in front of me
I told myself before how I was almost there

Deliberately, I took no action
And spent my days alone
But I’m longing for connection
And a family of my own

And it seems it all just got delayed
Undo and rearrange all the plans well made
And take a moment in the shade
To look wistfully the other way

Though I know I’ll never change direction
I was hoping beyond hope I could soon let life unfurl
Like a tapestry across future’s unexplored dimensions
Take the dreams so long too tightly curled

And send them singing through the ages
Walk away from the past and greet this wild world
Wholeheartedly, embracing it at last
And find someone to cherish and to hold, perhaps.

Take stock of where I’ve been
Give up the restrictions and their simulated safety
So careful not to make a sound, lest my real voice be found
Walk free of the red desert sands, and the smallness and the fear of then.

Take with me what lessons I can
Integrate myself into this world again
Finding within the balance of living, all I am
Watch with wide eyes as my whole world expands.

For now I am still waiting for that story yet untold.
Waiting for the day when I can let somebody in
For this part of life to finally unfold
For all aspects of my future to begin.

Meanwhile of my solitude I’ve made a friend
Into the mysteries that enfold me, I let go
For there will come a day when this will finally end
Tenth year and then I’ll be free to move on, I know.

Onward yet I journey, gratitude kept close to me
There is so much to be learning, so many blessings I receive,
I just wish once this is over I wouldn’t have to be
Starting out again, already thirty-three.

Voices From Cnoc Alúine

Caoilte

I will raise mountains to the sky
I will cover Islands with the sea
And I will gather broken things
And weave them quietly through dreams.

I will sing forgotten songs
And lift my voice, though none join in
And I will come by wind and rain
To see the lost live once again.

Ailbhe

Who will count the landscape’s scars
The path is red, blood of old stones
Shards of time, earth mother’s bones:
Once more found, are we never alone.

I

I will journey on the seven tides
To find the reason for your cries,
And I will sit in surrender to
The sadness welling up in you.

For you who are so very dear,
I will hold the far more near
And shed a single, weary tear
For all the dreams that flew from here.

Oisin

The great conversation is not halted
By the sun burnt desires of the taking
I am here in all that is,
What lies broken, all awaking

Do not cast a cry from the tallest trees
For what was never meant to last
Has not future met it’s origin
Has not the child come home again,

Striving for beyond,
And held the strands of the pattern in weaving between her fingers,
To become the song of sunbeams whose streaming laughter lingers?

In your hand you hold the vast and through it learn to soar,
Patiently within you, for child, it is yours.
There is no turning back, only turning, earth and seasons turning,
A time for growing and relearning.

Time to realize we’re all some mother’s child,
Time to honor and continue to rekindle
The wild look in your eyes,
And the color of belonging, green and blue and wise.

Did you really think there would be a single one
Who would not make it to the other side?
Change, the knot
That cannot be undone, it lies

Between our orchestra of longing,
And the whole with fractured facets rearranging.
And among chords played, between silences, we fly,
Letting go of all that’s left behind.

Life shimmers like a firefly’s light,
Transient and tenaciously, we dance what’s yours and mine.
Life leaps in joy and wonder into everything,
Glowing then for all it finds.

Life strikes out in frenzy through forever,
And for that, ever, ever shine.

*This is in response to my friend Ali Isaac’s post, “Almu, The Home of Irish Hero Fionn mac Cumhall,” which you can read here: http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/2014/05/15/almu-the-home-of-irish-hero-fionn-mac-cumhall/.