As my family walked into the California Science Museum yesterday, a woman approached us and meekly asked for money to feed her eight grandkids. I could feel that familiar wave of conflicting feelings rise within me as my brain and my heart battled for the appropriate response. Give her money? Find food? Say, “Sorry I don’t have any cash, but good luck to you.”?
I stopped and took a deep breath, listening to my gut/heart and choosing to act from love and compassion. As I fumbled for my wallet, this woman quietly revealed that her daughter had just died suddenly, leaving many children in need of…well, everything. And that her own mother died just last month, that she is an only child and feels so very alone. As she spoke, it seemed she was saying it all out loud for the first time and the weight it of it all was about to flatten her. Her voice cracked as she said, “I don’t know what I am going to do now.”
Good gracious mercy, what do you say to that?
After slipping a few dollars in her hands, I held both of them in mine and looked straight into her eyes, sharing for one brief moment her burden and her brokenness. That moment was all she needed to fall into my arms, gripping me desperately and ripping me wide open.
These stories used to seem so foreign to me, so sad and untouchable. But now I see them everywhere and I can’t help but to ask “why?”
It’s hard to live through tragedy without asking, “What does this all mean? What is the flipping point?” I get exasperated at the universe, frustrated and heartbroken to no end by the injustice and cruelty that abounds.
But I also marvel. I marvel at the opportunity we have to experience joy. To delight in things. To pursue happiness. We can actually find joy on a daily basis, moment to moment. How amazing is that? And I marvel especially that such joy and tenderness and beauty dwell so dangerously close to sorrow and suffering.
I marvel that we have the very privilege of creating life. That two cells come together to create something totally new and that this triad instantly becomes our “family”. That we spend our whole lives trying to figure out how we all fit together, how we relate, our origins both evoking our essence and validating our existence. Whether physically present or known only by name or memory, we wear our parents and their parents and their parents around our necks and over our hearts, for better or for worse. It seems we are tangled up in one another from the moment life begins.
I marvel that we can carry and birth babies, feel them move, hold them close, delight in them and watch them grow. But they aren’t really ours, it seems, and sometimes they die before we do, leaving us to experience an agony so deep and paralyzing it is hard to imagine living through it.
I marvel that we are given these miraculous bodies, so complex and strong and life-sustaining. But then these bodies fail us; ravaged by illness or deterioration, we suffer excruciating physical pain often beyond what it seems possible to endure.
I marvel that we have these sophisticated brains that are constantly changing and growing. Our minds give life to our ideas and feed our imaginations; they regulate our intricate body systems and nuanced feelings. And oh the wide array of feelings we get to experience! Some are so blissful we just keep wanting more and others are so painful we will do just about anything not to feel them. But sometimes our brains stop functioning properly: they get hijacked or cloudy or just shut down. Consequently, we must suffer the indignity of literally losing our minds.
I also marvel that good and evil have it out every day and that love and fear are so close to each other on the spectrum of what governs our thoughts and actions.
But what really gets me is that as humans we straddle this paradox of joy AND suffering our entire lives and can never seem to find peace with it. Not that we should find peace with it, but it’s hard for us to even wrap our sophisticated brains around such a contradiction.
The joy, the happiness, the fun…it’s so damn good it’s like a drug and we just keep wanting more. One more hit. One more taste. One more blissed-out moment. It’s our birthright, isn’t it? Aren’t we entitled? It’s so good that we can’t help but to cringe and crumble when things get hard. We are, after all, creatures wired for pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding, so it makes sense that when life becomes painful we say, “This is not right. This is a problem. It shouldn’t be this way!”
But what if the joy is really just a glimpse?
And what if the suffering is actually how it’s supposed to be? Part of the journey. Par for the course.
Written in our Stars.
What if when life is hard, like really hard…it means we are actually doing it right?
(This post is the first of eleven I will be writing this summer in a series called, “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”)