stroke the face of suffering
We suffer. We suffer. We suffer.
And, no matter the source of the suffering – death, heartbreak, disease, depression – a tooth in the raw, serrated edge of anguish is why.
Why me? Why her? Why now?
The other jagged cuts come from when.
When will this end?
When I’m in the midst of heartbreak, that question is home. Dysfunctional, abusive, trying-to-kill-me home. Unanswerable, unknowable, uncertainty is the instrument of a living death. It’s a long, slow beating.
Because…if I knew how it would end, I could prepare. I could make peace. I could surrender to reality. I could embrace the possibilities of my pre-ordained path.
And that is the hell of life: we don’t know how it ends. Or even that it does. We don’t know our destinies – or that we have a destiny, at all – and so we wade unprepared through the swamps of misery. We’re never really ready.
And that’s another tooth in the saw slicing through our skins.
And so when we are sinking in the quick-sands of anquish - and it is inevitable, there is no life untouched by tragedy – we scramble for ways out of the sucking, downward pull of despair.
We try to get out, fast. Because there is no comfort in uncertainty, in not knowing how long we are to endure this awfulness. Like wounded animals we instinctually try to make the pain stop, now. We’ll gnaw off our own limbs to get out of the trap.
And so I see a theme in happiness advice and in the way we live our lives: Avoid Suffering. If you fall into that pit, climb out as soon as possible. Do Not Enter. Get Out, ASAP.
There are lessons in suffering. There is even beauty. There is love. There are facets of suffering that shine. There is joy.
There is always joy.
All of this is a lyrical way to dance around declaring my writerly, woman-of-experience belief:
it is all material.
At the end of last year, my finances died. My one (!) income stream dried up. And instead of hiding the litany of fresh indignities brought on by broke, each day I’d present them to my boyfriend like a gift: omg, guess what happened now? I’d laugh about it. I’d look for meaning in the midst of economic misery. I listened for revelation.
And I told him that later this would be part of our story. We’d tell our children about it. This was my Before.
Thank God I am a writer and a romantic. The ability to see this continually refreshing stream of insults to my self-concept as the initial chapters of my personal fairy tale, the essential “before” providing dramatic contrast with the forthcoming happily-ever-after, saved my sanity.
And, at the same time, our relationship was at a fork in the road…and one of the paths led off a cliff. I didn’t know if we would end or love each other forever.
And so I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to hedge my bets. If I knew we were going to end, I’d start acting like it. I’d unhook.
If I knew we were going to walk together a little longer – or maybe a lot longer, like always – I’d woman up. I’d commit.
And because I didn’t know – because I was whipsawed by uncertainty – I cycled between both emotional states and behaviours each day. Sometimes several times a day. I’d call the whole thing off then show up at his door to tell him I loved him.
And, eventually, I figured out faith. I decided to be faithful to desire rather than being led by outcome.
I wanted to be together. And so, rather than play it safe and try to protect myself, I led with desire. I committed to desire. I committed to him and to us even though I didn’t know if we’d end up together.
I stopped being led by outcome. I stopped battling uncertainty. I accepted the uncertainty and acted from faith.
Faith is desire. Faith is being radically, organically loyal to who you are and what you want no matter what the consequences. No matter if you’ll fail and lose face later.
Being faithful to my terrifying desire to be together, nomaddawhat, saved me. It saved us.
And, possibly more importantly, faithanddesire was the light I looked to even when I didn’t know we’d get through it intact.
And so, from the fresh hell of broke and maybe-gonna-break-up, I learned. I learned from suffering. I found moments of exquisite joy in midst of misery.
Avoiding suffering is not the key to happiness. Instead, stroke the face of suffering and find faith etched in its wrinkles. Find joy in the planes of sadness. Life is fulsome.
And so, my love, my sister, my brother, my friend, if you are mired in despair, please know that you can create meaning and joy from your trials. Even if you don’t believe there is a plan or a pre-ordained reason for your pain, you can create The Reason. You can decide why you are here. You can hold on to the hope that you can transform your suffering into joy, into healing, into a beacon lighting the rough seas for the less experienced sailors travelling behind you. You can create art. You can find your voice. You can offer your gifts. You can reach out and hold wisdom in your unclenched hands.
You will have a story to tell and there are people who need to hear it.
Telling it will save you. It will save them.
And that, I’m convinced is the antidote to depression and the path out of your own head: to offer. To contribute. To extend yourself to others rather than fold yourself in on your anguish.
You are not origami. Unfurl.
I am not alone. There are other inspirational women who mine suffering for our most precious resource: life- and world-changing joy. Susan Piver speaks from the wisdom of a broken heart; Ronna Detrick writes about drinking deeply in the desert of despair; and Anita Rogers…well, just watch and be transformed.