By Helen Williams, Community Love Director at Holstee
"The art of living is based on rhythm -- on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, 'the dance of life,' metamorphosis." -- Henry Miller, Wisdom Of The Heart
Probably one of the saddest moments I can recall in my recent history was on an ordinary afternoon, driving along a quiet side street. Nestled in with nearby neighborhoods and outstretched farm fields, I was flanked by familiarity when suddenly something strange appeared. Or rather, I appeared before it. Off to the left shoulder of the road, impossibly small, was a tiny fox, his red fur dancing softly in the midday breeze. He was laying on his side, facing away from the road, and the sight of his unmoving form, graceful and lean, was perfect, completely unmarred by any external injury.
I stopped the car and approached him carefully, wondering, hoping, that maybe he would be alright. His tiny eyes were closed to me, his ink black paws limp in my hand. If I'd seen him anywhere else but by the side of the road, I would have only believed him to resting peacefully in the summer sunlight.
It's not the end of the world, I know. Life often ends as quickly as it begins. And while there are a monument of other, larger, more problematic circumstances whirring around us every day, the sight of that little wild canine creature, snuffed out in a way that seemed so unfair, was enough to haunt me for days, to plague me with a sadness that can't be described. It felt like a loss of no use. Just one more inexcusable wrong thing happening that I couldn't prevent or fix. I was more or less metaphorically stamping my foot to the ground, raising my fist to the sky: why? And all there was to be heard was the silence of the world moving on.
The thing about sadness is that we deeply require it; when we have it, I think we need to keep it close. And I'm not saying that in a way that is light and airy: sadness can maul us, can take everything we have. But sometimes, here and there, we have to let it have its way. Not fall victim to it permanently or let it dictate the outcome of our lives, no. And I'm certainly not using this space to comment on any more severe forms of clinical sadness: while depression is something we can all run up against from time to time, it's not something that all of us have to live with, which is a very different thing. What I am saying is that it is easy enough to reject sadness at the onset, to attempt to distract ourselves into believing something else is true or to not allow our loneliness to be the place where we stand for awhile, look around, make ourselves comfortable. It isn't easy; I get that. It isn't fun, either, but I don't think that's the point. What sadness can give to us, however, is something that we need, something that we have to pass through in order to learn, to move on. It rounds out our experience, it refines us, it gives us perspective, it breaks us into pieces we never knew existed and then leaves it to us to figure out how to be whole again. I don't know about you, but I'm still working on that. I have a piece missing here and there, but I'm rebuilding, and I'll be broken again if I'm lucky.
Deciding to believe that sadness has something for you is showing up for your life; it is owning both sides of the coin without letting them own you back.
In comparison, what I believe about happiness is that we also need it, and definitely tend to desire it more than sadness. Why? We can usually assume that happiness is safer, easier, more comforting. If we're happy, even if only in this moment, something must be going right, right? We must have achieved enough of a sense of satisfaction in order to enjoy it, yes? Yes. But sometimes the road to that particular moment is the hardest way possible. You might have to give up a lot to find it. You might have to acknowledge that happiness is smaller than you originally pictured. Smaller, but also wider, more advanced, deeper than you imagined. It is simple and it is complicated. It is comprised of our million smaller moments, the ones that weren't so easy, far from blissful, the ones that, possibly, maybe, definitely, included a little heartbreak.
I'm not saying if you're a genuinely happy person that you should feel bad about it. I wouldn't suggest that you go out and rent a really, really sad (and poignant and crucial and amazing) movie and then go attempt to seize the day. Enjoy your happiness when you have it; hold it tight. Revel in those tiny moments of pleasure. Breathe in the summer air, have a long meal, give a seriously good hug to someone who needs it. It will change you for the better, I promise. All I'm saying, all I'm hoping for, is that we don't trade away our sadness for a superficial sense of everything-being-okay. Sometimes it won't be; let it. Sometimes it will be; rejoice.
In the end, I don't have any answers for why that little fox didn't survive that day. Probably because it's not an answer we can have, really, as we often can't explain away things that don't make any sense at all. Loss of any kind has the capacity to make us bitter, angry, self-righteous, indignant. Demanding an answer doesn't change the fact that sometimes there isn't one, and that's okay. Deciding to believe that sadness has something for you is showing up for your life; it is owning both sides of the coin without letting them own you back. It is realizing that while we pursue happiness in the form of our greatest wants and ambitions, there is something to be said for the moments when that fails, when we go off course, when we can't remember where we were going in the first place. It is deciding to embrace the stuff that hurts, of letting it wreck us but not overtake us. It is in letting that stuff in that we learn how to start over, to shape our stories, define our greatest and our strongest moments. It is how we become ourselves.
It is through this moment when all felt lost, when the world felt impossibly fractured and faulted that I could, several weeks later on a late night drive, spot in the distance a tiny movement, an impossibly swift creature that dashed out into the road in a way that can only be described as one graceful bound. One moment, a flash of familiar red fur, and he was gone, crossed safely on to the other side.
Further reading (and watching):
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, on Paradoxes of Happiness.
Being happy vs. searching for meaning, via Explorer.
Watch The Science Of Depression by AsapSCIENCE.
Comedian Louis C.K.'s spot-on claim that we're lucky to feel sadness.
We are made of memories.
Why rejection can be good, sometimes.
A worthwhile documentary.
And Hugh MacKay, via Joanna Goddard, on why we should strive for wholeness.
Helen Williams is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She's strives, every day, to be less sorry.