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The year in sadness

Good morning heartache/ Here we go again/ Good morning heartache/ You’re the one/ Who knows me well/ Might as well get use to you/ Hanging around/ Good morning heartache/ Sit down -Billie Holiday

It is often said that it is impossible to experience joy without sadness. I don’t believe this; I think that it is more accurate to say that it is impossible to appreciate joy without sadness. I believe that the full range of human emotion is possible from the womb, but experiencing the kind of sadness that you’re not sure you’ll ever get up from makes every moment of joy and happiness all the better. Sadness is my least favorite emotion, mostly because I experience sadness as a result of disappointment and I have a love/hate relationship with disappointment. It loves me; I hate it.

In the past, my method of dealing with disappointment was to not deal at all. To keep moving, keep pushing, pivot, make split second decisions, to always have a foot on the gas. The only time I ever slowed down was in the event of illness or being entirely too overwhelmed by disappointment to move on. But, those moments never lasted long and I just kept going. The problem is that the sadness that came on as a result of experiencing disappointment kept on as well.

Then, all at once, in 2017, came the flood of sadness. It had nothing to do with the results of any election or the turnout of any rally. Every relationship that didn’t work out, every job that didn’t pan out, every word that ended a friendship, and every moment where I wish I had made a different decision crawled up next to me and demanded to be acknowledged. By that time, the disappointment of every dream I’d built, and that I’d subconsciously worked at not seeing to fruition, had broken me so that all I could do was let it be. And eventually, we had to look each other in the eye and address every disappointment one-by-one.

You see, I struggled with letting the fantasy of what I thought my life would be like in my head go, and so everything that wasn’t that fantasy came up short every time. My mind constantly wandered back to 18-year-old me– so sure and so full of possibility. I knew I was going to be a magazine editor, New York Times bestselling author, wife, mother, and philanthropist before I was 30. I built a fantasy and was disappointed when it didn’t realize. My ego was bruised and I felt silly for thinking that all of those things were possible to have in the 10 years since my high school graduation. This was not a sustainable way to live, and so the Holy Spirit decided that since I wouldn’t stop or slow down, it would make it too heavy for me to move past it. The only way out of sadness is through it.

Three hundred sixty-five days later, after sitting with, in, around, and across from sadness, I can say that it has taught me five new interpretations of some very important lessons:

  1. Gratitude. Some may call it a coping mechanism, but the best pick-me-up I’ve found is sitting down and forcing myself to make a list of 10 things I am grateful for at any given moment.
  2. Release. Letting go is both easy and hard, but it’s most necessary. The book A Course In Miracles repeats the sentence “Nothing real can be threatened and nothing unreal exists” over and over again. The meaning behind this sentence in the context of the book is that fear is unreal because it comes from the ego and love is real because it comes from God. Disappointment is too much to hold onto, and it is nothing at all, and so it must be released.
  3. Stamina. As someone whose default emotion is happiness, for me, wading through sadness is like ice skating in mud. However, I was still able to live my life and even see some of my dreams come true not being at my happiest self.
  4. Obedience. Sometimes all you can do is own your purpose and follow the universe’s instructions. The only place I could look this year was up.
  5. Discernment. What I learned from sadness is precisely what Paulo Coehlo wrote in his book The Alchemist, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” Sadness felt like an emergency but it wasn’t.

This year, I have experienced moments of elation and moments that felt so heavy that I couldn’t keep my knees from buckling while I prayed. But, I am here on the other side of sadness with the knowledge that joy is always within reach. On this last day of 2017, I can say that I know for sure that there is not permanent eraser for sadness, but it is not the beginning or end of anything. Carrying this lesson learned is all I could have asked for, and I know that 2018 will be all the better because of the experience.




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