Last week, I walked into work on a particularly lovely day. The sky was an extraordinary blue; the air, warm without being oppressive. A slight breeze jostled the branches of the trees. From my car to the office, I marveled at this quiet beauty and peace. Suddenly, I stopped, nearly stepping on two dead baby birds on the sidewalk. I held my breath as I looked at their bald heads, their tiny, hairless pink bodies, their small beaks and their closed eyes. I looked up at the beautiful tree and the gorgeous sky above it. In an instant, beauty, joy and pain merged. Sometimes they occur independently, other times, simultaneously. This is life.
Registering this profound scene, I continued walking. This moment of joy and pain reminded me of one of the most difficult and joyous times of my life. In May 2010, two weeks after my son turned 1 year old, I learned that my father was terminally ill with only 6 months to live. I also learned that he was an alcoholic diagnosed with cirrhosis. The abrupt reality disorganized my life, my home, my sanity and my heart. The details were tragic and required a strength within that I did not know I had.
Sometimes when I think of that time, it feels like one big blur, a whirlwind, a blink. Other times, it feels like a painful, slow-motion picture. Yet, while all of this tragedy literally surrounded me, I experienced extraordinary joys. As hospice workers shuffled in and out of my home to help care for my father, my beautiful one year old son learned to speak and walk. He laughed, kissed and hugged me. He explored his world in new ways. He shined like a bright, beautiful, radiant light. He was the sun.
The juxtaposition of these two experiences strikes me deeply. The extraordinary unfolding of this miracle of life, my son, and the tragic, disturbing and shocking death of my father. In order to survive that horrific reality, I HAD to find the joy in each day. Throughout each day, I sought out and welcomed any joy that might present itself. Those moments sustained me. I ended each day mentally reciting all that I felt grateful for in that day. If I did not do these things, my heart and my hope might have died alongside my father.
Moments like I had last week, seeing the dead birds on the sidewalk as I admired the beauty of the day are stark reminders of my experience in 2010. How many of you have had experiences of deep, personal pain, loss and tragedy? How did you cope? How did you find the joy amongst your deepest pain?
When you can find joy and beauty in each day, in your work and with the people in your life, you can transform any difficult experience. This does not mean that you will avoid hard feelings. It’s important to feel all of your emotions as fully as you are able. You miss the fullness of your life if you choose to stay focused on the negative emotions and experiences. You must look for and acknowledge the good. You may have to look hard to find it but it is ALWAYS there.
Start your practice today. Throughout your day, notice what feels positive, joyful, beautiful, peaceful. Mentally take note. If you struggle to find this, pause and take a deep breath. Pray or focus your thoughts on opening your heart. You might even think to yourself, “I open my heart“. Move on with your day and try again. Make this a daily practice, even if you do not experience any pain or tragedy. If you put this practice in place, you will find it easier to access when times get harder.
After my father died, I spent many months processing all of the feelings I had about that experience. I have cried many tears and I’ve laughed at some very funny memories. Joy and pain… this is life.