Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Joy's Shadow

This year, Christmas would be different. Less stress, more merry, more meaningful-ness in everything that we do, less do-ing on my part, more memorable stuff, less stuff stuff...

It was so good. It was among my most favorite Christmases for sure. Yet every year, despite all the happiness, despite all the sheer gratitude I feel, there is always some sadness - always. Desperately, I seek to find the reason behind this shadow of sorrow that hovers around me in such a way that even amidst my joy, I feel the Shadow's weight.

The day after Christmas, I needed to clear my head out because my Shadow was becoming heavier than I was willing to let her be. I headed outside, by myself, for a walk around the block. Bundled tightly against the frigid chill and stepping carefully over the leftover slicks of ice and mounds of snow, I walked and walked while Shadow and Joy battled each other out in my head. "Why are you here?" Joy demanded. Shadow did not respond, yet her silence and unwavering presence commanded Joy's attention. I walked and walked.

The seed of my shadow was probably planted in my freshman year of high school when my grandmother died on Christmas Eve. For many years after that, we each tried desperately to replace the sadness of her death with the joy we hope to feel at Christmas. Eventually, of course, we did. As a family, we healed and recovered and Christmas was full of joy again- as well as the memory of my dear Grandma. And so as I walked, I searched for other such sources of sadness...

"But I am just so grateful. I have so much gratitude for rich blessings in my life. What is this weight of sadness?" Joy persisted. Finally, after I had walked and walked, the answer came to me quickly and with clarity; instinctively, I knew I'd found what I had sought. "Compassion," Shadow replied. "In order to have deep gratitude for something, you often must have deep compassion for it as well."

The logical, sense-making right hemisphere of my brain seemed satisfied. My heart felt comforted. For this year, as with every single year, there has been heartache and hardship and grief and loneliness and hunger and pain and longing and desperation. Thinking of these people and the burdens they have carried, I feel deep compassion for them, knowing how hard each day must be, and in particular, how much harder these festival days must be. I've walked in those shoes before. And I've imagined walking in many other pairs, too.

If I could choose a single character trait for my children to develop fully and completely, it would be that of compassion. May my children learn to view others and the world "with passion," and with the willingness "to suffer with [another person]" If this means that the joy of our living will be lined in a faint shadow of sorrow, I'll take umbrage knowing it is because of the depth of our gratitude.

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