The Pairing of Joy and Sorrow

This weekend held a wide range of emotions from the high to the low. On Saturday I went to a bachelorette party for one of my closest friends. We lounged by the pool, chatted, and generally celebrated her impending marriage. It was a joy to spend time with her and other close friends of hers for the sole purpose of having fun. But I had another event this weekend and it was not a bachelorette party.

A family friend of mine passed away a couple of weeks ago and it’s sent shockwaves through my community. I say that because no one could have guessed he would have passed away. He was one of the most healthy, vibrant people I knew. When I think of him, I see him with a huge smile on his face, beaming out joy to the world. He was the same age as my parents so his death has me confronting their mortality as well. Layered on top of that, I grew up with his daughters so his death hits me in another way that’s hard to express. Sunday was his memorial service and I cried through most of the ceremony.

black heart

Seemed appropriate. Photo by Bryan Garces on Unsplash

But here’s the interesting part: joy and sorrow get to coexist within me, within us. Even during the memorial service we could hear his grandchildren laughing and playing in the background. It reminded me both emotions can be present. That joy and sorrow can be like the yin yang symbol with a little bit of white in the black and a little bit of black in the white. In my experience life is like that. Attending a wedding can bring up grief about being single. A funeral can bring not joy, but appreciation at reconnecting with friends, even if the circumstances are sad. This weekend was a study in that for me — pairing joy with sorrow.

Two years ago I wrote a poem about a similar experience following the death of a coworker called “Big Enough for Both:”

Big enough for both
Grief and celebration
A funeral and a wedding
Loss and gain
Hurting and healing
All at once

That’s what life is like for me right now, maybe for all of us. It’s heartbreaking and heart-gladdening. It’s happy and sad. It’s frustrating and peaceful. It’s everything all at once. I want to parse things out and say, “Now is a happy time and now is a sad time,” but my life isn’t like that. It’s messy and chaotic and unpredictable. As I contemplate how to end this post, I can see my friend with a big smile on his face saying, “Don’t worry, it’s fine,” as in, I don’t have to make sense of it all, I don’t have to try to change life or circumstances. I can be here, in the moment, accepting everything.

I dream of a world where we understand life is messy, chaotic, and unpredictable — not only in terms of circumstances but also in emotions. A world where we realize the yin yang is an excellent portrayal of our experiences. A world where we understand that oftentimes joy is paired with sorrow and vice versa.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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