on grief

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
                                                                        - Kurt Vonnegut 

There have been so many sad things lately. The Connecticut school shooting that brought the nation to its knees. A good friend of mine lost her baby, just minutes after giving birth. Another had a miscarriage. I have a close friend who lost his job, just weeks before Christmas. I have a family member who is struggling with an illness, and other close friends and relatives struggling with emotional or other physical issues.

It has been difficult for me to embrace the Christmas season this year, and I think all around me I feel this collective sigh - this breath escaping from all of our lips. No matter who or where we are, we experience this disbelief, this grief that is shared. We send flowers, we send well-wishes, we send prayers. But we never really know. We can never know.

I've struggled to feel happy with so much pervasive sadness. I've felt that I didn't deserve happiness - not when so many had deep struggles. In some ways, it felt like I was selfishly betraying them with my own happiness. My birthday was the day of the shooting. I was miserable for most of the day. My heart sunk at the news, then I would remember it was my birthday, then I would punish myself for the grief and pain so many were experiencing. It was a difficult thing, a constant tear at my heart strings.

I don't know what the answer is, because we cannot suffer the grief of others, nor can our efforts wholly alleviate it. We can't fix everything. But I do know this one, simple thing. That we need to allow ourselves to experience joy. Not just because it makes us feel good, but because it is necessary. We were not made for constant depression and anxiety, which is not to say that we should not allow ourselves to experience it. But to dwell on it for too long, and to punish ourselves is futile. There is too much good left. There are too many happy things ahead.