On Joy and Sorrow

Author’s Note: This was written likely in 2013 or 2014, shortly after my father’s passing. I found it recently and wanted to share it because it’s still true. 

On a cool, clear Friday evening I found myself in the warren of side streets around Chinatown looking for a small church. I was distracted though and walked past it at first, but managed to find it just the same, tucked away off from the sidewalk. I was greeted with handshakes and smiles. The alter and pews were decorated with Christmas regalia. The wood gave off a warm glow, like a blanket in front of a fireplace. I was there to hear gospel music.

As the choir began singing, I could feel the tears already brimming in my eyes. I knew this would happen. I was warned by my friend who invited me and I knew from past experience that music is a powerful stimulus for me. But I was not expecting to cry the whole way through the concert. The choir members must have seen the wild look on my face, a mixture of consternation etched across my brow as the tears streamed down and a twisted smile on my lips. I was truly happy to be there, to hear them sing such powerfully joyous music.

My friend and I walked home together, through the UofT campus. It was a quiet and distraction-free stroll that allowed us to talk about the sort of things that friends get to talk about when they’re finally left in the privacy of a trusted confidante.

I was upset that I had cried so much through the concert. It seems these days it’s harder for me to compose myself when these events occur. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping the waterworks away. I distinctly remember a grade four teacher telling me I should learn to be less sensitive. Thanks, you emotional haranguer.

My friend said something that made so much sense. She said there is only one opening in our bodies for both joy and sorrow and when one comes out, the other rushes out with it.

In my grieving process, so much sorrow has come out, and still continues to come out. And when I open myself up to something joyous–like music–I am particularly vulnerable. I have been moved to tears sitting at open jams listening to the same silly songs I always hear.

Today I played this video of Hey Rosetta!’s Carry Me Home and halfway through the song I began to sob uncontrollably. I’m still sniffling right now. Instead of stifling it, I let it out, though. I did not stop it. I sobbed. I let it all come out. Because I can’t keep it inside. I just can’t. To keep it inside would mean that I am tamping down my joy as well. And if that means I have these horribly inappropriate crying jags every now and then, so be it. Cause eventually the balance will change. By getting all of that sorrow out, I am making room for joy.

Today I did a little research into this idea of sorrow and joy emerging from the same place and came across this poem by Khalil Gibran, one of my sister’s favourite poets. I think it speaks ten million times more eloquently than my long-winded ass ever could. Reading it brings me to tears again, so you know what? I think it speaks the truth.

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Art by Zhong Yang Huang

On Joy and Sorrow from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

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