I will never forget sitting on an airplane in my early twenties, reading my newly discovered copy of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. His words bold in my memory, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
I remember feeling something awaken in me as I read the arrangement of words that so beautifully articulated an idea I had felt in my heart but was never quite able to express. Our ability to experience all the love and joy in the world is so deeply tied to our same ability to embrace and embody our grief.
We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with discomfort. Thanks to modern technology and medicine, the quality of life we are accustomed to today is unrecognizable from what our ancestors endured before us. But, are we too comfortable now? We have remedies to numb our pain for nearly every ailment, be it physical, mental or emotional. We are able to distract ourselves with an endless stream of digital content and entertainment to drown out the things we do not wish to face. When we close ourselves off from our own difficult feelings, how can we show up for others when they need us?
How many times have you encountered a grieving friend or co-worker, and not known what to say? We fill the air with “at least’s,” and other meaningless, upbeat expressions we have collected along the way, because we find their suffering unbearable. We tend to view our role as the “fixer” and make it our personal responsibility to lift our friend’s spirits. But in truth, when we fill their space with empty cheerfulness, we are silencing our loved ones who simply need our presence. We cannot take away their pain- and we should stop trying to. Pain serves a purpose. It deserves our attention, reflection and compassion. Our pain is as important to our being as our joy. When we embrace our sorrow with the same tenderness that we would extend to a child in need, we nurture the broken pieces within ourselves. Grief is the embodiment of love, so to dismiss grief is to dismiss love.
When our loved ones are grieving, our only role is to be authentically available to hold space for them. Perhaps this level of presence is so challenging for us to access because it requires true empathy. Sitting in presence with a person in pain begs of us to tap into something painful within ourselves; it requires that we face an aspect of our own brokenness, in order to connect to the brokenness of others. We can only meet other people as deeply as we’ve met ourselves. Thus, to hold space for another’s sorrow, we must first be intimately acquainted with what is in our own hearts. It is only through raw vulnerability that we are present to connect most honestly to those in front of us.
I believe that suffering is an important aspect of our humanity. Our ability to embrace our suffering is the very thing that binds us to others. Through our connections, we create meaning in our brokenness. Perhaps grief and love are one; the thread that connects us all. When we sit in presence with our own pain and brokenness, we lay the groundwork for showing up honestly for others. It is when our hearts are cracked wide open, when our worlds feel shattered, that we realize the depths of our love. With mindful reflection, we see clearly that the roots of grief grow from seeds of love. Recognition of this universal experience can soften our gaze, and allow us to view ourselves, others and ultimately the world through eyes of compassion.
Danielle Trauth-Jurman is a former Bridges of Hope staff member and currently serves as an Advancement Officer with Trident United Way.