Can’t have one without the other


We had a spectacular spring break.  The trip to the Galapagos was more magical than our everyday life, of course, and Grace and Whit, sponges that they are, soaked it all up.  As we headed home, on the last morning, Grace was tearful. In the airport lounge (as we embarked on what would be a full 24 hours of travel) she looked at me with mournful eyes.  “I don’t want it to be over,” she said, hugging me hard.  I nodded, my own eyes filling with tears.

“Why does it have to end?  Why does it have to be so sad?” she asked me, her voice muffled against my shoulder.  A wry smile flitted across my face, though she couldn’t see it.  Why does it?  This is something I ask myself every single day.

“Oh, Gracie.  You can’t have one without the other,” I said.  She pulled away and looked me in the eye, a question in her face.  “You know, the amazing experience is part of it and then being sad it’s over is the other part.”  She nodded silently, chewing her lip.  We sat in silence, the huge ceiling fans in the Guayaquil airport spinning slowly overhead.  I watched Grace’s knee jiggle as I thought of the two edges of this world, of the joy and the sorrow, of the beauty and the pain, of how inextricably linked they are, of how ambivalent I feel that my daughter is learning this lesson already.


The last night of break, Whit came out of his room a few minutes after I had tucked him in.  I walked him back into his dark room and sat down on the edge of his bed.  “What’s on your mind?”  His cheeks were wet and he had clearly been crying.  He shook his head and I waited.

“I want to go back to the Galapagos, Mummy.  And I am just sad.  Sad about everything that’s over.”  I stroked his blond hair off his forehead.  “I’m sad we’re not going back to Legoland.”  I nodded.

“I know, Whit.  It’s always sad when things are over.”  I had a lump in my own throat as I spoke.  Over and over again, Grace and Whit seem to go straight to the heart of all the things I find the most difficult.  This is what they do: they drag me to confront the emotions with which I most struggle.

“So many things,” he hiccuped, “that didn’t seem that much fun at the time, like the hot slow bus to the turtle farm, or the long layover in Guayaquil, or the flight where we didn’t sleep…” his voice trailed off.

“Or that lunch in Puerto Ayora when you were so cranky,” I offered, and a small smile cracked his face.

“Yeah.  All of those things.  They didn’t seem that much fun when we were going them, but now I miss them all.”

Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember. – Oscar Levant

I read this quote the day after that bedtime conversation with Whit, and I think it’s saying what he was, too.  So often things take on the sheen of joy after the fact, their memory burnished with something that wasn’t necessarily there as we lived it.  I don’t think this is a bad or a sad thing, though it does make me more aware that the experiences that feel like a slog (and Whit is right, that long bus ride back and forth across Santa Cruz qualifies) often become cherished memories.

It’s all connected, all of it: the delight and the sorrow, the experience and the memory, the difficulty fading into the background as the joyful center of an experience moves to the front.  You can’t have one without the other, of any of these dualities, of that I’m sure.  It’s a bittersweet thing, to watch my children learn this, and they both did on our trip to the Galapagos and in its wake.  And it’s something I’m still learning, too.


29 thoughts on “Can’t have one without the other”

  1. this feels so absolutely true in my bones and soul… my children also “drag me to confront the emotions with which I most struggle.” feeling especially tender, as I experienced this intensely just yesterday. thank you for the solace of your wise and poetic words.

  2. You have put this so beautifully. I always remind myself to enjoy the moment. But I usually can’t. It’s the memories I remember. This reminds me to keep more of an open mind when my kids say “I’m bored.”

  3. I think it was Henri Nouwen — or maybe Frederick Buechner — who wrote eloquently about our beginning to say our goodbyes even as we are saying the first hello. It’s all of a piece. How sweet and tender that your children are able to articulate their torn feelings to you and that you understand so completely.

  4. Yes, yes. Of course this hits home with me. Sometimes I’m remembering the happiness right in the middle of experiencing it; nostalgic before the moment is even over. Every time I try to put that into words, fortunately, my family is right there to tease me and make me laugh at myself. But it’s a tender place, this awareness. Love how you express it so beautifully here.

  5. I. so. love. this. I love the message you gave them both. I know that feeling, that lump. But really we wouldn’t feel that joy so ever present if we didn’t see the other side of life, too.

  6. Oh, yeah. I think it’s so often true that hard/frustrating experiences are the ones we cherish most in memory. In 1988 I went to Hawaii with my grandma and a gaggle of cousins. We took a looong, hot bus ride (long story) that we all thought of as the low point of the trip. Much of that vacation is gone to me now, but I will always remember that bus ride. And what I wouldn’t give to take it again with everyone who was there then, as we were then.

    No, can’t have one without the other.

  7. Lovely, Lindsey. I will remember to share that sentiment with my children-and myself-when I mourn those times gone by. I’m in the midst of trying to sort all these happy and sad experiences of motherhood right now…feeling like I’m just a bundle of tears, ready to burst at any moment.

  8. Thank you. They really do, don’t they? Little sages, they’re like that pebble in my shoe – reminding me to be here, irritating me on a regular basis, and mostly just making me realize, over and over, that I’m alive. And what an outrageous gift that is.

  9. Knowing this intellectually doesn’t make it any less hard for me to live through the sorrow part of things, every single time. xox

  10. Thank you. They really are, attuned that is – it often feels like they inherited that from me, and I admit I feel ambivalent about that legacy, since I know it entails an awful lot of sorrow. xox

  11. One of the things I remember most vividly from childhood was my parents telling me, on a near-daily basis, that “Only boring people are bored.” I say that to my kids now too, all the time!

  12. I know! Big changes … was just time t let it go. Which was not without tremendous sadness for me. But what else is new? (letting go, being sad about it, lather, rinse, repeat!). xox

  13. Oh, I need to find that quote. Yes, exactly. All of a piece. So much sadness in recognizing that, but for me at least, that’s an inextricable part of the joy of it, too. xox

  14. Oh, yes. I think you know I know that feeling too, mourning the loss of something even smack in the middle of it. It’s like standing in the ocean as the tide goes out and knowing it’s already out, even when your ankles are still in the water, right? Or something like that. xoxo

  15. Thank you. I agree with you – ot’s because of that lump and sadness that we feel joy so keenly. I really, really believe that. xox

  16. Exactly. That is what we’ll remember too, that bus ride (well, we did that 4 times, which is part of the story!). It continues to fascinate and flummox me, the way we remember small things when whole swaths of experience get lost. xox

  17. What a great lesson, and something I still struggle with daily. I think I need to explain this like you did to my older son, he also gets sad when good things end, but we have going the route of distraction, getting him excited about the next fun thing…and that’s not sustainable and really doesn’t teach him anything (though it worked great at 2-3 years old).

  18. the trick is to bring those happy memories with you when times get difficult. my oldest is not well and he and I sit and swap stories of the misadventures that we have had as a family travelling over the years while we wait for MRI’s or EEG’s. It takes the edge off the bad. and when things return, we will look back at these times not as turmoil in our lives but rather just one more adventure that we have taken, as a family.

  19. I love your perspective … your realness … your beautiful words as art. My daughters and I cried on the last night of vacation. We, too, didn’t want it to end. There is something about being somewhere as a family, away from life’s duties, where laughter comes easier and time slows down. Oh, how I didn’t want it to end. But you are so right–we only know this feeling because we know the other side. You said it so beautifully.

    As always, your writing inspires me … delights me … and gives me peace.

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