These experiences – they are the most profound ones we can imagine – suggest that we are most deeply vital when we realize that joy and sorrow go together, that one cannot exist without the other. Becoming aware of this situation, we become further cognizant of the fact that all the universe likewise secretly brings together gasping antinomies. In apprehending this cosmic polarity, we feel as though we are at one with the world, that our own agitated unities are perfectly in synch with the chaotic concords of everything else. At such a moment, we suffer what we can only call peace, grace, an innocent sensation that we were meant for this soul-rending earth, and it for us.Eric Wilson Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy
I’ve been reading Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy off and on for the past few weeks (after Sarah’s mention of it on her wonderful blog) and it’s made me think (even more than normal) a lot about grief and the juxtaposition of sadness and joy. The paired existence of the two has always played a huge part in the way I see and experience things. Even considering that this summer began with a shaking break-up, it’s been a remarkably beautiful one. Feeling vulnerable and broken opens up so many doors to see the beauty of what lingers, of what remains. Some things – some of the best things – still stand when others crumble. There is so, so much love to redirect after losing someone, and I’m amazed by how deeply I’ve come to adore all of my friends, my family, the taste of blackberries and summer squash, walking through the woods, petting a dog or a horse or a goat, writing news articles, clicking the shutter on my camera, waving at passing cars on the back roads. Everything. All beautiful in its time, and now must be the time. But it.has.not.been.easy. And it.has.not.been.fast.
But what has helped so, so much is the existence and proximity of many strong, strong women. I am surrounded by them: my mother (the strongest and best of all), my closest female friends at school and from high school, my aunts and cousins on both sides of the family, the people I’ve worked with this summer. And what’s been on my mind the past few days are the remarkably strong female farmers I’ve met this summer. These women milk goats or slaughter chickens or grow kale and chard and squash. And they have stuck with me long after I’ve left their farms. The few I’m talking about have giant, restful souls and are sharply independent and self-sufficient. They’re everything I want to be when I grow up. They are peaceful and radiant. But I think what makes all of these women the strongest of all – or maybe it’s just what captures my attention the most — is that they talk about grief, live with grief, and somehow, sometimes more than others, come to embrace it and accept it as absolutely necessary. As a chance to start over. As a chance to better yourself. As a chance for a change, for growth, for emerging as the person buried deep inside your bones. As the necessary other half of joy, of satisfaction and comfort and beauty and head-spinning bliss.
I have learned the most this summer, and felt so much, in the presence of women who hold grief hopefully, who experience hardship and still laugh, who falter and fall and lose but keep going with wide eyes and a better understanding of the world and the people in it. The hurt I have felt is so small compared to what it could be, compared to that of many, many people. I am thankful for all the gifts, infinitely numbered, endlessly existing – found everywhere that you can look a little deeper. I’m thankful I can see them. I’m thankful I receive them. As Amy said this morning, I’m so blessed, I don’t even go to church but I’m just so blessed. Blessings of the world, whether there’s a god or not. So I’m thankful, really, above all, for all the real people in my life, the ones that allow themselves to feel and take and learn from it.