Heartbreaking but necessary work

Jo wrote yesterday at Mylestones about the common – and toxic – belief that “life is what happens next, if we could just get past the hurdle right in front.”

Her post is beautiful, powerful writing; probably my favorite I’ve ever read by her, which is saying something as I read every word she writes.  It reminds me of the beginning of something I wrote last summer, inspired by another blogger (Kate at sweet/salty – the italics are her words).

We like to think that life is joy punctuated with pain but it’s not. Life is pain punctuated with moments of joy.

The optimist in me wants to disagree with Kate about the joy/pain balance of life, but the pessimist in me senses that she is right. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, really, what the equation is, as long as we appreciate the joy and it sustains us through the pain. Of course everybody’s particular calculus is different, their balance of happy and sad, light and shadow individual. It’s no secret that mine leans towards shadow.

Life is not fairly represented in a Flickr photostream. It is not false, but it is not the whole truth. Memories are kneaded into something different from what we actually experienced. In the gulf between the two there is necessary sorcery.

I love this image, of the sorcery that exists in the gulf between experience and memory. Yes, how true it is, that even as we live moments we are not always sure of how they will transmogrify in our memory. Some of the “big moments” of my life are blurs in my memory, while some of the most mundane and unspecial days are the ones I remember with the clarity and dazzling color of light through a prism. Some of the memories that I return to the most often for comfort and inspiration, crystalline in their power, are of experiences that I did not realize the importance of as I lived them. Most, in fact.

This truth supports the fact that, as Jo says, “Life is years of labored breathing with occasional seconds of breathless euphoria.”  It’s in the labored breathing, sometimes, that the most vivid things happen.  These are the moments cached in our ordinary days, the ones we don’t realize we will never forget until after they are gone.

I disgust myself with how ungrateful I can be. I mourn the ability to be as blindly ungrateful as I please. I love my kids but I miss myself. I’m tired of wrangling and refereeing and spotting.

I often bemoan my own ingratitude, my inability to get out of my own way to see the glory and beauty of my life.  My children are at a tennis lesson and I miss them. Then they are home and I miss the silence of their absence. I look at them sleeping and am overcome with a wave of love so simultaneously fierce and gentle that it shocks me. They wake up, start bickering, and within five minutes that intense warmth has shifted to something decidedly less gentle. Repeat. Ad nauseum.

And this musing brings me right back to Jo’s post – the challenge, I think, is recognizing the sweetness inherent in the muck, the stuff that we might think we just have to get through.  I remember several years ago, talking to a friend about how this was a tough time because of X or Y and suddenly I realized … hell, there is always going to be an X or a Y.  Probably a Z, too.  And you know what?  That is my life.

The difficulty in seeing that, at least for me, comes in the inevitable sadness of acknowledging that life won’t be just as pictured.  Recognizing that life is here, not tomorrow, not after this or that accomplishment or challenge, involves letting go of how we wanted it to be.  And that is heartbreaking, but necessary work.

11 thoughts on “Heartbreaking but necessary work”

  1. I love this post, Lindsey . We go through the hurdles and we find some sunshine along the way. Sometimes it’s difficult to see that struggle brings victory,and mundane can be some of our best memories. Thank you.

  2. So, so true, Lindsey.

    I believe that the past and the future are all about the stories we are told, that we tell ourselves, that our culture weaves. What is true is what is right here, right now.

    The challenge, in our world, is being here for every moment…

  3. I just love these last lines:
    “Recognizing that life is here, not tomorrow, not after this or that accomplishment or challenge, involves letting go of how we wanted it to be. And that is heartbreaking, but necessary work.”

    That letting go of how I always pictured my life, it feels like letting go of an ideal. And it’s so tempting to fight against the truth of “real life” rather than to make peace with it. This peace-making, this mindful acceptance (acceptance not characterized by resignation but of empowerment), this is indeed such heartbreaking, necessary work.

  4. Ultimately, our approach to life should be measured on whether or not it works.

    You can approach life as joy punctuated by pain, or as pain punctuated by joy. The question is not which is true; the question is which belief provides a better life for you.

    This varies from person to person; I’m naturally optimistic; seeing the glass as half-full is second nature, and trying to force myself to be pessimistic would be madness. On the other hand, a natural pessimist wouldn’t benefit from desperately mouthing optimistic sentiments, while secretly feeling like a fraud.

    Do what works; everything else is sideshow.

  5. Gosh I know how you feel. When Abra was first born I was always looking to pawn her off on people. Then I’d want to rip her out of people’s arms when they took her. When are we ever satisfied?

  6. And hard work it all is. Constant work. What on oxymoron, that it’s so hard to just be. You’d think it would be easy. I’m realizing though, slowly the power that lies in finding ways to do it. In honouring as much as we can, but forgiving ourselves when we can’t. Your image of loving your children while they sleep at night and feeling frustration almost as soon as they wake. This is so heartachingly familiar to me. So I try to consciously remind myself of it throughout the day, and when I do, I sneak in an extra hug.

  7. Yup. And the interesting thing to me is that the more I’m able to let go of thinking the painful parts will (or should) end at some point, the less painful everything is.

  8. This is beautiful. I don’t know that it’s pessimism and optimism, though – it’s more about the peace that can be found when you quit expecting every day to be extraordinary. It’s one of the four noble truths of Buddhism that life *is* suffering. And that the sooner you embrace that, the sooner you quit striving or expecting it to be constant joy. Which opens things up for less angst. Which opens the way to the ability to appreciate small joys.

    I’m not even a beginner, let alone well-read or mentored. But that’s what I gather, and it fits what I already believe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths (I’m sure you’ve seen this already, but I’ll put it in here to remind myself as much as anyone else)… xo

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