Last week I read Susan Piver’s beautiful writing about the importance of sadness and sighed, nodded, and cried at the same time.  She was expressing exactly what I was trying to say, unsuccessfully, the other day.  I wasn’t having a bad day, though several friends called me and asked if I was OK after reading the post.  I don’t think I have a desperately tortured approach to the world, though perhaps others differ.

I was simply trying to describe what it’s like to be me in the world.  I feel intense joy and grief in equal measure, and it is safe to say that both emotions mark every single day of my life.  If the definition of a broken heart is feeling things, including sadness, overwhelmingly, then I have one.  Every single day.  It’s just another way of saying I’m porous.

I love, too, what Susan has to say about the instinct to turn sadness into one of the less uncomfortable emotions: bitterness, anger, helplessness.  Even defensiveness can be a place to hide from sadness.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that the last years for me have been a journey that is in large part about accepting my own fundamental sadness.  Resisting the impulse to run from the discomfort that true sadness brings.  Instead, leaning into it.  This is not easy, and for sure, a lot of the time it hurts.  Though there are many things that cut me to the quick, my essential sadness is time’s swift passage; that is the black hole at the center of my life, the unavoidable truth around which all the planets of my being orbit.

Virginia Woolf said “The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder” and I could not agree more.  In accepting the sadness I’ve seen so much more of the joy; in acknowledging my innate broken-heartedness I’ve also learned to be open to soaring moments of inspiration and even to belly laughter.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s gorgeous Kindness addresses also the ways that sadness is inextricably linked to sweeter emotions.  Her lines remind me of my thoughts about gentleness, another word that has been in my mind of late.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth/
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

And so I supposed the message is not to shirk our own sorrow and not to bolt to safer harbors whose emotions are less painful.  At least if you’re wired like me, the path is paved with sadness, but that doesn’t mean the sky isn’t filled with glory.

13 thoughts on “Sadness”

  1. Beautifully, beautifully said, Lindsey. Thank you.

    I think, I wonder… Is there something about sadness that just plain scares people? For you and me and others we know, writing about it seems natural. Important. But if it is part of a post, there are the inevitable phone calls and emails to be sure that you are alright. Always.

    The concern is touching, but it also shows a basic level of discomfort with grief, or sadness, the shadow side of things. I’m glad you don’t let it stop you…

    These words will be swirling around in my head all day. Thanks again.

  2. On a day when I’m struggling with my own sadness and deep insecurities, this is what I needed to read. To be reminded that there is reason to lean into these feelings and to recognize them fully for what they are. Thank you.

  3. When I was in grad school I learned that anger is a secondary emotion; that is, an emotion that covers another. Most secondary emotions cover, not surprisingly, sadness. The fact is, it’s not generally a socially-acceptable emotion. People can deal with anger, but not as well with sadness. It’s been my experience that it makes people uncomfortable (those awful admonisions to “cheer up!”?), which is unfortunate because we need sadness as much as joy.

  4. Love the imagery of the salt in the weakened broth–what a poem.

    Sorry about the sads 🙁 For me, it’s so hard to accept that sadness and just “sit with it in your lap for a while.” I don’t want it in my lap. Which is probably why I get angry a lot, eh?

  5. I’m right there with you, friend. Family members (esp my mom) think I’m frequently sad because I write about it frequently.

    And the last year, I’ve tried to go into the sadness, anger. Live in it, instead of shimmying away from it. Not easy for me, but it is important work. Now, I let it sit and try to accept that which it needs to teach me. And doing so dramatically highlights what you’ve written here…the polarity of life is indeed…life. xo

  6. I gravitate toward sadness. In the past I apologized, but not anymore. Thanks for your courage in revealing your authentic feelings. It helped me especially today as I marked the anniversary of my father’s passing two years ago.

  7. You are so, so wise. I still bolt from sadness even though I know it’s only my own heart’s compassion with all that is sad in the world. I agree. Sadness is when we are the most open-hearted even if that means being broken-hearted. I too get those calls of concern. I think our culture’s superficiality reflects our belief that sadness needs to be covered up with neon lights and stilettos. The darkness can be soothing sometimes.

    Much love to you and comfort!

  8. Oh, thanks for posting that stanza from Kindness – I’ve not read that poem in forever and now I’m off digging through the beauty that is Naomi Shihab Nye.


  9. What a powerful post, it really gave me a few things to think about. I had great parents who hated to see us sad (still do) so I’ve always tried to hide those days when I feel that way. You are making me reconsider that choice.

  10. I’ve come back several times to read this post–I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it quite this way before, that you can’t feel one emotion without being able to feel its opposite…

    And then, this is true of me as well but, as opposed to you, difficult for me to remember: … my essential sadness is time’s swift passage; that is the black hole at the center of my life, the unavoidable truth around which all the planets of my being orbit.

  11. I love this poem (of course). It reminds me of two things. First, a chapter in “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore. The one on darkness. Moore writes of travel into one’s darkness/sadness/grief as a necessary voyage that cultivates one’s depth and capacity. Great chapter.
    Also how a writing mentor once pointed out that when you place something dark next to something light in just the right way, the light is that much brighter and it gets you right in the gut in a way that wouldn’t happen if you just showed the light. I love that. And I know it when I read it.

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