I read somewhere the other day that sadness is a part of the privilege of joy, it literally allows space for joy to breathe. That makes a lot of sense to me, maybe in part because I was raised to believe that sometimes you just need a really good cry. I remember letting myself go and falling into a pillow and unlocking the tears and worries of my younger self. I would cry until the pillow case was so wet I needed to flip it. Sometimes I’d throw in loud cleansing sobs. As an adult I don’t do it quite as much, but I am trying to allow myself to get back to the practice of living unclenched.
The years we spend unafraid of our highs and lows are healthy—soaring delight at a dandelion ripe for wishing, inconsolable tears over a shattered LEGO kingdom, and back to glee at a double Wheat Thin in a snack bowl. It’s an emotional equalizer of sorts, which isn’t to say that there aren’t genuine issues of depression, rather the allowed intimacy between emotions throughout the day.
I was going about the usual morning blur the other day. The kitchen was messy, Avery was sick, and there were several piles of cat vomit. It was really tempting to catapult myself into a gloomy place, feet stuck by cement blocks of stubborn. I was trying to stay positive when Finley chirped, “Mom, mom look at this.” I almost sighed one of those awful mom sighs that signals how put out we are by yet another call of “Mom,” but I didn’t.
“What is it, sweets?” I asked evenly.
“Look! I finished the milk and it perfect. Absolutely perfect, Mom. Can you even believe it?” she said.
I turned and saw the empty milk container next to a tall glass filled to the very top with milk. She held a hand out like Vanna White and nodded at me.
I smiled at her and then laughed out loud. As she stood there with the perfect glass of milk I saw everything differently. The box that held Ave’s antibiotics went from clutter to proof I had taken her to the pediatrician and tended to what was wrong. The book that was on the counter wasn’t out of place, it was right at hand for all the reading we’d been doing together. The candles and Yahtzee taking up space on the counter were another mark of our having played together and my taking the time to light a candle for no reason but to enjoy the light.
“Finley, that is so cool. And you even put a straw in it.”
She beamed at me as I asked, “Can I snap a picture of you?”
Maybe you don’t drink milk, but I bet you can find your version of a little thing that you allow yourself to find pure joy in for at least a few minutes. Maybe if we all crack that door and get back in touch with happiness that does not rely on credit cards, weight loss, or booze, we can eclipse the anger and frustration that wears us down.
If you haven’t seen this Louis CK clip about embracing the waves of sadness that can hit, watch it. Happiness can be the same way. Let it in, let it all in and then out.