What if joy and pain were different shades of the same, beautiful color—not sworn foes growling and frothing from opposite corners?
What if they completed each other? What if they were in love?
I just read Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, and he got me thinking about joy and pain.
When you come in from the snow and run your hands under cold water, your hands, they bite and burn just the same way as when you plunge them into a scalding bath.
Hold that thought. Let’s focus on the darkness for a moment.
K-Pants spent the night at my sister Hillary’s a while back. Hill woke up to see him standing right next to her bed, staring at her. “I’m afraid of the darkness,” he said.
Tell me about it.
I haven’t had a diagnosis of depression. But I don’t think that matters.
I know the darkness.
After kids, the darkness started to have bar fights with the light.
Specifically, after Baby Woww was born, K-Pants didn’t ease out of his my-brother-won’t-go-away adjustment phase. The emotional disregulation blows my mind and breaks me down. Sometimes I feel like my back is against the wall, but in ways that make my body shake and give me vertigo.
I just want to let you know that the darkness isn’t bad. It’s human. It doesn’t need a stigma.
And I’ve found that the darkness gives this gift that just keeps growing and growing: Empathy. The word that sparkles.
Empathy connects me to these friends I have who glow in the dark.
They are armed only with faith or a pocket light, and are often caught in the darkness with their eyes open, pressing the breath from their chests and watching it steam out of their mouths.
They’ve faced death and instability, infertility and isolation, chronic illness and chronic caretaking.
They know, after they’ve scratched the surface of the darkness, or taken a long, exhausting swim, they know how far down it can go.
When my own breath dissipates, I look around: there they are, glowing. Gentle and unguarded. When I reach out my hand, someone takes it. My gratitude for these friends is deeper than the darkness.
So joy and pain.
When the light comes now it’s lighter and brighter and more beautiful than before.
I know enough to see that the joy often comes in the middle of the pain. It makes the small beauties big. It pushes me back to the moment, this moment, even as I want to jump ahead screaming. The joy romances the pain, and together they let me know that others’ hearts beat with mine.
And because of the pain, I feel the joy with a touch of innocence, like the first time plunging in to a steaming bath.