Sorrow and Joy

Those of you who know me personally know that I’ve been through a “rough patch” of life lately. I call it a rough patch because we all have them; mine are no worse or better than yours. They come and they go and they never happen at an ideal time.

To make a long and sad story shorter and less difficult for you to read and me to write, I lost two very important people in my life in the same week last week. My dad’s mom, who fought a long and graceful battle with both cancer and Alzheimer’s, is finally at peace in a new and healthy body. [As an aside: I find Alzheimer’s to be an awful and bittersweet disease when it comes so late in life as it did with my grandmother. I have started to sincerely question how aware I want to be of my body and mind’s deterioration as it comes to me in my sunset years.] Her passing was not a surprise, so while it is never easy to lose someone who has been such an important influence in your life, grieving for the loss of my grandmother had been going on for quite some time already. However, my mother’s father is a different story. Since I’ve never had much of a father figure in my own life, Poppy (as we knew him) was the default. He was sarcastic, charming, a leader, and had lived many, happy chapters of life. He was a veteran, an engineer, a father, the best Poppy, a farmer, a raconteur, a church Deacon, and a simple man. He was the best man. The end of his life came swiftly, unexpectedly (to me, anyway – perhaps it was denial), and it still hits me like a knuckle-punch to the temple.

I have lost plenty of people before. Close ones. My dad died when I was 22 years old. Here Maria Popova summarizes Joan Didion’s view on grief: Joan Didion on Grief. Never have I read anything more spot-on in the description of loss, or at least how it feels to me. One minute you’re as collected as a museum, but the next you find yourself thinking “I’ll be sure to tell Poppy about that when…” and suddenly curled up in the fetal position, vomiting tears, mad at yourself for forgetting, again, and wondering if it will ever not hurt anymore, knowing it won’t, and thinking that if you don’t pull yourself together right this second you never will. Waves of this. Then fewer waves. Sorrow is hard. But it’s life.

Then I was watching TV, because I do a lot of that lately, and some scripted wedding something or other came on. The vows made mention of something like “…two shall be one, sorrow shall be halved, and joy shall be doubled.” Rewind. Sorrow shall be halved. Rewind. Joy shall be doubled. Rewind. Sorrow. Shall. Be. Halved.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis. He’s my jam. He talks a lot about love. The man does not sugar coat it. I couldn’t agree with him more. After all, I’m writing this blog as a misadventured spinster, no? It’s never been that I don’t have faith in love; I do. I simply don’t buy into the “falling” part. The part where you sell someone a bill of goods. The part where you act like someone you’re not, and they do the same, and then suddenly you’re married and you hate each other because you’ve married a stranger. [I’ve never been married but I see it all. the. time.] I want to skip that part and get to the meat. I like the meat. I love the meat. [Now I want steak.] I love the part where you love each other for who you are, not who you pretend you are. All of that digression was simply to say that I avoid dating [like the plague], because of the bill of goods. And C.S. Lewis nailed it when he said this about love in Mere Christianity:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably was never was or ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

So the point of this is to say that for so long I’ve carried my own burdens, because I’ve been happy to. Happy to be a spinster. Happy to be single. I still am. But, the idea of half the sorrow and double the joy is enough to consider the alternative, the quieter love, even if it means having to be “in love” first.


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