As this holiday season arrives, some of us will struggle with old and new sorrows as well as happiness and joy.
“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Today, I can choose to live mostly in joy while holding sorrow.
But that hasn’t always been so. Years ago, when my best friend Julie died a ravaging death from breast cancer at age 42, I lived in grieving sorrow for a long time with little joy.
But Julie—and her premature death—also taught me that deep sorrow and joy are part of being human.
In February of the year she died, we went cross-country skiing through the fresh, fluffy snow in Algonquin Park. After a chilly blue sky day of easy skiing—and a thrilling meeting with a big, bold pileated woodpecker—we were sitting in the outdoor hot tub at the lodge, just the two of us. The astonishing and brilliant stars radiated sweetly intense light. We both felt infused with and surrounded by the love and grace of 25 years of tender and deep friendship.
When she died three months later, I didn’t have the capacity to hold my sorrow. When a beloved friend dies far too early, what do you do?
I wanted to be someone who was accepting and loving, as she had come to be with her own death. I yearned to move through my grief and loss with ease. But instead I was someone who railed against the world. So I drank. A lot. And was angry and bitter.
Slowly, over the years, I let go of old unhealthy coping mechanisms that Julie’s death had triggered. And I learned how to turn my mind to find the positive: To feel the deep joy of having had Julie in my life for 25 years. Isn’t that amazing? That we created this delicate yet powerful web of loving friendship that is with me still, all these years later.
We humans carry so much sorrow in this world. Knowing that I can’t cure it but that I can live with joy, as Joseph Campbell says.
I can remember those who have died not only in my life, but in yours, too. And some of you may be facing death and illness this holiday season and some of you may have little or nothing to celebrate. Or you may have a time of happiness and joy. Or both, like me.
Today, Julie and others have taught me the capacity to hold my sorrows, and yours too, and fall into joy by giving with as much grace as I can, as Julie did for me.
May your holiday season be grounded in joy and sorrow and the sweet grace of giving.