As many of you know it's been a rough week saying good-bye to my brother-in-law Javier. When you lose someone you love, you wonder how the world can just go on like it does. The rain still falls, cars go by, people haggle over the last piece of bacon.
The gift of grieving is the compassion that comes with the realization that it's not my grief. It's our grief. In every small town and big city, someone's heart is breaking over the loss of a loved one. In every language spoken on earth people cry out in sorrow.
Grief is born of love. Can we let our hearts be tender to its touch?
Everyday life is full of contradictions, situations where opposites are true at the same time. Practicing our ability to hold opposing truths builds resilience and lies at the core of a full and healthy life.
After Javier's accident and traumatic brain injury, my sister Virginia lived with contradiction for seven-and-a-half weeks. She held hope and belief that her husband would recover, and she knew it was possible he wouldn't survive.
Virginia cried in anguish, prayed with faith and she also laughed with joy. The staff at the hospital loved her. (As do we all) They continually spoke of her courage, her warmth, and her commitment to Javier. In between helping with Javier's therapy, she crocheted scarves for other patients! She attuned to joy in the midst of deep sorrow.
Virginia also juggled the contradictions innate between the needs of her husband and the needs of her young children. I love to see her smile and talk about her children. She told me a story about her five-year-old who said, "When Daddy comes home, I'm going to teach him his numbers and colors. Ten plus ten is twenty. Daddy's brain doesn't know that. But mine does." Virginia's practice of holding both joy and sorrow has strengthened her for the days of grief to come.
This ability to hold and feel the opposites of joy and sorrow is critical to resilience. To cling only to sorrow, even though sorrow is true, leads to depression and/or bitterness. To cling solely to joy and not acknowledge the depths of pain and loss leads to numbness.
Most days, we will not deal with the extremes that Virginia faces. On the periphery of her story, I have practiced being present to her and to my own grief, while at the same time celebrating the launch of PURE GRIT and my joy in work well done.
Grasping such contradictions helped the American WWII nurses survive combat and prison camp. In the midst of danger, fear and death, cracking jokes was one way the women stayed centered. For instance, when nurses couldn't bring themselves to eat due to anxiety during the air raids, one joked that if hit, their chances of survival would be better on an empty stomach.
After nearly three years in prison camp, the nurses continued to find humor in their situation to help keep their spirits up. Despite the hardships they suffered, the women grasped any excuse to celebrate.
Army Nurses Rita Palmer said later, "The birthdays and anniversaries of the members of each one's family far away in the United States or some country were duly feted with a special tablecloth and a cake.” They continued to celebrate when they no longer had ingredients to make a cake.
In late 1944, as many as five people were dying each day of starvation related ailments in Santo Tomas Internment Camp. The nurses were as sick as their patients.
Army Nurse Frances Nash was so weak, her legs swollen with beriberi that she could hardly walk to the hospital. She wrote in her diary, “We had stood more than I had ever thought the human body and mind could endure.”
She also wrote, “There was nothing beautiful in our lives except the sunsets and the moonlight.” Frances saw beauty in the midst of unimaginable suffering.
If we open ourselves to what is true moment by moment, we will experience contradiction. Embracing the contradictions builds resilience and invites the fullness of life to flow through us.
I'd love to know, what's your experience with these difficult contradictions in life and how we give them their due?
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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